Of all the flooded areas, Oceana has the greatest mix of mining and timbering. The timbering is harder to see, back on hills and away from the roads. However, aerial photos taken by Bob Gates show an extensive sweep of logging in several spots along Clear Fork and Laurel Fork (see photos at the bottom of the page and Glen Fork page).
The mountaintop removal mine in Oceana is hard to miss. Just as you leave the town on route 85 heading northeast towards Kopperston, you see the bald spot appear above the trees. There, set back from the rolling lawn and pine trees, is an in-progress valley fill for part of the Pioneer Fuel mines that lie to the northeast and northwest of Oceana.
Photo by Bob Gates
Oceana was one of the hardest hit areas during the July 8 floods. Waters rose out of Laurel Fork and swept across an area about the width of four city blocks, all the way to Route 10, the main street of the business district. There was damage southeast of the town along Laurel Fork, but the waters rose higher after Clear Fork joined Laurel at the southeastern end of town. Clear Fork continues southwest through Oceana until it meets the Guyandotte River about 15 miles away near Simon.
The valley fill you can see on the north east side of Oceana is on Jims Branch, about a half a mile from Clear Fork, two miles from Oceana. We were able to walk up to the sediment pond for the fill less than a week after the flood.
Much debris, including trees and cut timber, was lodged in Jims Branch, about 1000 feet below the spillway for the sediment pond. A bank rose to one side of the spillway. But a ditch about 10 feet wide and 5 feet deep had been cut in the bank by the storm. A lot of loose dirt and rock had washed out of the ditch. Some of the large stones at the bottom of the spillway were washed away. The sediment pond itself was full of mud and had a collection of trees and logs lodged at the edge of the spillway.
India Kiser lives below the Jims Branch valley fill in a neatly kept blue, one-story house. A month or so before the flood, another heavy rain had washed a number of rocks into the hollow above her. She was afraid the rocks would divert the next heavy rain onto her house. "I begged this man with the shovel (from the mine) to clean it out," she said, 10 days after the flood. "He said he couldn't--DNR wouldn't let him."
What she feared came to pass. "All that rain came and backed up and came down here on me six-feet deep. It washed logs and everything out," she said.
Bob Gates asked India Kiser if she had ever seen anything like the storm of July 8. "I've been here all my life and never saw anything like this," she said. "We've had rains before, but they never hurt us like this. The creek stayed open before. This time it was full of big rocks from that mountain up there. The water had nowhere to go but down here on me."
She lost everything in her garage, including a lawnmower, freezer full of meat, a Maytag washer and dryer, canned goods, tools, and most else necessary for a household.
As the flood swirled around her, she saw logs everywhere. "They timbered up there," she said. The shape of the rocks also indicated they came down from the mine, she said. She picked a rock up to show Bob Gates. "These were hauled in to build the dam," she said. "These are not creek rocks."
Clear Fork, before it joins Jims Branch, did not have much erosion or debris cluttering its banks. However, downstream from where Jims Branch joins Clear Fork, there was much more washout and damage, as if a substantial portion of the runoff from the valley fill was carried into Clear Fork.
Jims Branch joins Clear Fork Upstream of join Downstream of join
Jim Toler, a teacher who lives in Kopperston, had watched the logging operations on the hills around Oceana, and something made him worry. What if a heavy rain came, he thought. Would there be more runoff, would there be flooding? After the flood, he's still concerned, worried about another heavy rain and angry that state officials aren't paying enough attention to whether the timbering contributed to the flooding. (See his letter to the Charleston Gazette)
Bob Gates flew over the north and east sides of Oceana on Sept. 17 and found a number of timbering jobs. The roads on at least one had significant flood erosion. Others had many roads cut up and around the hillside. Division of Forestry inspectors say that the fewer roads the better, for it reduces runoff from a timbering site.
Three timbering sites along Clear Fork, northeast of Oceana. Photos by Bob Gates.
The photo below is a closeup of a large slide in the clear cut photographed above. The clear cut was along Sycamore Branch, which feeds into Clear Fork in a large basin south of the community of Craney.
Photo by Bob Gates