February 1998 (Updated May 2003, see bottom of article)
About seven miles south of Logan on Route 10, you'll see a road to the north under the railroad tracks. That's the entrance to Rum Creek. As soon as you reach the Dehue-Chambers School in about three quarters of a mile, you'll get your first glimpse of mountaintop removal mining.
Mountaintop mining above Chambers, beyond Dehue School (left)
Further up the road towards Chambers, you'll pass a large tipple and coal truck loading operation for Pittson's mines. The coal comes from a mountaintop mine about five miles down Route 10. Instead of building a road within the mine to haul the coal, the trucks travel at the rate of one every few minutes along Route 10. The road has a three-mile curve along a ledge in the side of the mountain. After hard rains, pieces of the road crumble down the side. In places, the guard rail seems to be only faintly anchored to the mountainside.
The mines that can be seen above Rum Creek are both Pittson and Arch Coal Inc. mines. However, residents believe the Pittson mines will join the Arch mines soon. For the past year, the residents of Chambers have watched as the mountain to the south of their homes was chewed down a few hundred feet.
Since June 1997, the residents of Chambers have had several problems from the mines and the land company that owns the property being mined. One mountainside above Chambers is being stripped in preparation for a valley fill. Hard rains in late June washed down a road on the stripping operation and into homes in the community.
Further up the road in Yolyn, a major washout from a valley fill sent waves of mud and water about four miles down the road. Piles so large they blocked the road ended up near the Chambers sign. Some people couldn't get out of their driveways.
For nearly half a century, the community had gotten its water from deep inside the mountain about a half mile up the hill. Residents paid for the piping system from the mountain to their homes. However, Arch plans to put a valley fill and sediment pond in that area. The land company, which owns the mineral rights notified the residents a couple of years ago that the water would be shut off. Some residents hooked up to public water. Dingess-Rum properties gave them a one-time payment of $300. But they must pay the monthly bills, some more than $70. Before, the water was free.
In the fall of 1997, the land company sent another notice that the water would be turned off. In early November, it did turn the water off. Distraught residents called the Division of Environmental Protection. DEP threatened Arch that it would shut down the entire mine if the water was not restored. It was. But in early December, another shutoff occured. DEP made similar threats. Water was again turned back on and remained on early in January.
Greg Wooten, vice- president of Dingess-Rum Properties, said that the DEP did not have jurisdiction in this dispute. "It is a property rights issue and not to be regulated by the DEP," he said. He said that the DEP put restrictions in Arch's new permit covering the water supply, which he believed are improper.
Wooten explained that Dingess-Rum originally established the water supply for residents in its houses in Orville. A small group of houses in Chambers are privately owned, though Dingess-Rum owns the mineral rights underneath. The Chambers people hooked up to the water supply years ago, causing shortages in Orville. Dingess-Rum then established a separate water supply for Orville and allowed the Chambers people to use the water from the mountain. However, when public water was extended to the Chambers area in the early 1990s, Dingess-Rum wrote the people urging them to hook up to public water.
"This is not an issue betweeen Arch and DEP," Wooten said. "It is an issue between Dingess-Rum and the people...I don't think DEP or Arch were aware of some of the facts." Wooten said there is a possibility that Dingess-Rum can work out the water problem. "Not to say as a corporation we can't work out an arrangement with the people, if we can do it on a basis we are happy with," he said.
Hughie Moore lives in a house at the very end of this row of homes in Chambers. Arch plans to extend a valley fill down between the mountains on the right. Moore owned surface rights to tiny parcel of land about 500 feet up the valley. The company approached him last summer and offered him an option to purchase. Later he went to the DEP office in Logan and looked at the permit files. Only then did he realize that Arch needed his land for the sediment pond. He refused to accept any more mailings from the company. A neighbor wanted to buy the lot and put a house there. He thought that would prevent the valley fill from coming so close to the community. But a lawyer said the purchase could not go through. The company had already acquired the rights to Moore's land.
In early January, the Logan County Schools Superintendent announced that the Dehue-Chambers School would be closed. So many families had moved out of the Rum Creek-Chambers-Yolyn area that there weren't enough children to fill the school. However by the end of the month, the superintendent changed his mind. The school, as well as that in Sharples, will stay open -- for awhile.
The good news: the Chambers community still has the water from the deep mine up the mountain. Grass is growing on the bare knob that remains of the mountain after removal of the top. The bad news: Huey Moore's little square of soil is under a valley fill that pokes out close to the houses. Until the middle of 2002, the blasting was nearly unbearable for Dexter Carver and his neighbors. Coal trucks rumble down the narrow road, rattling the bridge and nearby houses. And the Dehue school is closed--and the dozen houses remaining of historic Dehue itself, wiped away in 2001, a preparation plant in their place. (continued below photos)
Grass grows on what's left of the mountain.
A valley fill obliterated Hughey Moore's land and the rest of a forested hollow.
One of many coal trucks rumbles down Rum Creek in June 2001.
The last of Dehue is removed in June 2001.
Dexter Carver actually works on the Ruffner mountaintop mine that looms over the southeast side of Rum Creek. But his job didn't prevent him from complaining, along with several neighbors, about the blasts that shook his house. He kept a list of the dates and descriptions of the blasts. Some were okay; some weren't. Those went on the list. Those were the ones that shook the doors and windows, even loosening the ceiling tiles.
"Don't think they ought to allow them to do that to people," Carver said.
Like many people dealing with blasting, Carver went to the coal company first. He thought he left that meeting with the understanding that at the conclusion of mining, Arch would pay to repair the blasting damages. Later, Arch's insurance said the mine was not responsible for the damages. Carver would have to cover repairs himself.
Carver began calling DEP. The mine did get at least one violation for blasting. But mostly the DEP inspector told Carver that the blasting was in compliance. "I told him," Carver said, "if it jarred the house, it's out of compliance." Even when DEP cited the mine, it was meaningless, Carver said. They needed to do a huge production shot to uncover the coal. That one shot could reveal enough coal for two week's work. The amount of the DEP fine was miniscule in comparison.
Unfortunately, Carver didn't get a pre-blast survey. So Arch officials tell him he can't prove the damages. "I've told three guys that there was nothing wrong with my house." Since the blasting started, he's had to reshingle the roof three times." Pre-blast surveys didn't seem to result in reimbursements, either. Several of his neighbors had them, proof they thought. Arch still didn't pay for damages.
Instead, Carver got a letter from the president of the Arch subsidiary running the mine. "He said I may feel the house shake but that doesn't mean anything."
"Coal is an industry," Carver said. "I told some guys at work that everything I make I've got to put back in the house."
And now Carver has heard, Massey Energy is going to mine the mountain on the other side of Rum Creek--across the street from his house.