Around midnight, the water came down Lick Creek from the mine. Roaring, it rushed down the little stream, overflowing the banks. Black with dirt and coal waste, it stained the rocks and sand in the creek. At least three times in the past six years, torrents of water came off the mine in the middle of the night, according to people living near the creek. They say the mine had emptied out the sediment ponds at the valley fills. Or perhaps the water burst out of one of the deep mines up the mountain.
Two valley fills top Lick Creek and a tributary. The one on the right is finished now, but residents think that some of the black water came from this fill. Other black water came from a pit of mine water that was released into a tributary of
Lick Creek, according to a Division of Environmental Protection report of Feb. 27, 1996.
Black water in the creek is just one of several problems citizens believe come from the A.T. Massey mountaintop and deep mines surrounding and under their homes. Orange water, slides from the mine and blasting damage are among the other issues of concern in this community about five miles east of Williamson.
In the early 1990s, Larry Wilson (house on left of photo) had his well go dry. He drilled a new one, but the water is orange.
His family uses it for washing even though it has stained the inside of the washing machine. They must buy drinking water. Jean Roberts, who lives in the the house towards the center of the photograph, had to buy $5,000 worth of filters. Still her water often has small small black particles. Just about everyone along the creek has bad water, Wilson said. The only alternative is public water. Jean is skeptical of public water, too. It has too much chlorine, she said.
While mountaintop mining was going on about 1,000 feet up the stream, blasting was a bother. Some of the shots were hard enough to rattle the doors and windows.A leak developed in Jean's son's swimming pool after a blast.
One family had not one but two washouts come off the mine onto their yard. The first occurred in August 1996, according to a DEP report. It nearly closed the road, according to Jean. The next happened a couple of months later. As the DEP inspector wrote on Oct. 2, 1996: "Additional material has washed/slid/flowed down unnamed tributary hollow and deposited additional mud flows in Cooper yard. Cooper yard had been nearly cleaned up but will have to be done again."