CHARLESTON, W.Va. —  Supporters of keeping mountaintop removal mining away from Kanawha State Forest delivered a petition to Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s office Friday.  It contained nearly 4,000 signatures that were gathered in just a month’s time.

“The petition asks that the governor rescind the permit that was granted to Keystone Mining company to mine the second area adjacent to Kanawha State Forest,” explained Rita Ray, one of the organizers of the petition drive.

More than 200 people came out Thursday night to rally in support of the petition at the state Capitol. Ray said it’s time for government to start listening to what people have to say, not just big business.

“We are hoping that state government officials and our governor will be responsive to what we’re trying to communicate about the fact that this is hurting one of our jewels of recreation and tourism,” she said.

Under the current permit agreement, Keystone will not use any of the state forest roads for access to the mining site, no valley fills will be created and there will be an adequate buffer zone between the mining activity and the forest.

Ray and her husband often ride the roads and trails of Kanawha State Forest on their bicycles. That’s her vested interest.

Ray said one of her concerns is about the interruption of recreation in some parts of the park.

“A lot of these trails will have to be closed because of the blasting and the danger to hikers and bikers and nature-lovers,” she said.

But even more disturbing, she stressed, is what could happen to those who live near the forest and the mining site in Loudendale. Those families, according to Ray, are fearful of flooding, contaminated wells and property values that will sink.

Ray said if the governor cares about those families or the loss of tourism to the forest, he’ll revoke Keystone’s permit.

Keystone is paying for the right to mine near the forest. Initial estimates indicate Kanawha State Forest will receive about $700,000 from the project.

On Monday, the state Department of Environmental Protection will hold a final hearing on the permit.

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  • Aaron

    I'm not sure what announcements have been made but it's my understanding that the dirt work currently being undertaken in Northgate is part of the runway extension that has been ongoing since 2004 and will bridge Keystone Drive.

    The only complaint I have read about is that Yeager has been included in a lawsuit by Freedom Industries which claims that "The “erosion of the tank’s foundation and the increased water on the tank site and the associated process of repeated wetting and drying of the tank bottom, which resulted from the Airport’s runway extension project and the lack of associated or adequate stormwater controls, significantly caused or contributed to the MCHM tank’s failure in January 2014.

    • Aaron

      This should have been a reply to Muse asking what MTR was ongoing at Yeager and Northgate.

      • Muse

        Thanks for the info Aaron.

  • M

    If Keystone owns the mineral rights and has a valid permit, they should be allowed to operate. But they should NOT be allowed to infringe on the rights of properties beyond their permit. They should not be allowed to contaminate other properties' wells, increase the risk of flooding, or restrict access to roads and trails outside of the permit area.

    • muse

      The permit is not valid. DEP is required by State code to get approval from the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) for any surface mine permit that will adversely effect any area listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There is a large section of KSF very near this permit site that is listed. The correspondence between DEP and SHPO shows that DEP was in fact fully aware of this law and was trying to get SHPO approval. SHPO, siting many concerns with the impact of this mine to the forest and the Historic District, has yet to grant its approval. The DEP issued the permit anyway, this making it an invalid permit.

      • muse

        From the DEPs own permitting handbook -

        • The bookman

          According to a legal filing brought against Keystone dated July 22nd, the SHPO granted its approval a few days beyond the issuance of the permit in May. According to the link you posted, they had 30 days to respond, and possibly another 30 days via extension. So is the issue a technical one that it was late, or that the SHPO has problems with the project that are not being addressed?

          • muse

            The assertion that SHPO granted approval "a few days beyond" permit issuance was erroneous and in fact SHPO still has not concurred. DEP is required to have SHPO concurrence prior to issuing a permit. Their last letter to SHPO was May 1, They issued the permit May 5. For the permit to have been issued legally DEP should have waited until June 1, giving SHPO 30 days to respond.
            SHPO has significant concerns (outlined in their Nov 6 letter to DEP) regarding adverse impacts to the historic register area of KSF that were not addressed by DEP.

    • Jeff

      You want them to NOT poison the water?? I don't know, M, that's asking a lot.

  • FungoJoe

    Cry baby liberals that want their way or will throw a juvenile fit. That area needs a bit of flat land. Blast those mountain tops off.

  • Shadow

    The answer is obvious. The bikers and nature lovers should get together and buy the land at its worth. Problem solved. Seems the Takings Clause in the Constitution covers this subject.

    • ViennaGuy

      Ha! That was going to be my next point. Well stated!

  • thornton

    Log the forest at the same time to the tune of a created early successional percentage of 20%....the critters within the forest will applaud, as will the new species that will be recruited to a now diverse and so, healthy zipcode.

    Hey, bikers and hikers....wait just a bit and all will be well for all involved. The reason is not that hard a concept to understand.

    And,,,some "nature lovers" should understand that little trees need love too!

  • ViennaGuy

    Am I understanding correctly that this is not actually in the State Forest, but adjacent to it on private property?

    • Aaron

      Yes, it is on private property. Additionally, the company has committed to haul spoilage away meaning they will not be creating valley fills, responsible for most flooding in MTR mining sites.

      I wonder why these citizen are not protesting the MTR that is going on at Yeager Airport and in the Northgate Industrial Park?

      • muse

        What sort of MTR is going on at Yeager and Northgate?

      • Monty Burns

        Simple. The South Hills crowd.

    • The bookman

      You are correct, with $700k going to Kanawha SF as mitigation, although no operations will occur on the Forest.

      • muse

        Bookman, that $700,000 is going to the WV DNR, not directly to KSF. DNR is not under any obligation to use those funds for improving KSF.

        • The bookman

          We have been around this issue before, and nothing has changed. The DNR already has plans for the money detailed by Hoy Murphy from the Department of Commerce in a previous Metronews story on this subject. Improvements will be made with the 10 cents/ton to KSF. If it doesn't go there, they are on record as misinforming the public. I don't know what else you can expect them to do to assure you of the benefit to KSF.

          The area in question is subject to mining operations, and as a previous comment notes, at night the constant drone of mining equipment can be heard in the distance, squelching out nature. This isn't new activity to the region, just the latest activity. This Forest already maintains a heightened level of protection and is managed more like a Park than a State Forest. At what point will it be OK to mine the coal we need? The county benefits, the state benefits, miners are employed, families are enriched. The Forest remains untouched, and the inconvenience of coal mining occurring across the boundary of the state forest will last only as long as the project endures.

          It is private property with a valuable commodity. The owners have gone above and beyond to be good neighbors and good partners. They should have the right to develop their resource as long as they act responsibly.

          • muse

            I'm saying that before you advocate for endangering people's health and property by surface mining you should at least have an understanding of what those impacts are and what it means to live with them on a daily basis. I invite you to come down here and talk with folks who have lived it before you chose to support it. That seems reasonable to me. I would be more than happy to host you for a visit.

            And yes, I will not advocate for manufacturing or large scale farming if I don't have to live with the consequences, I leave that up to the community who does. It is not my right to burden other communities with impacts that I myself would not want to endure.

            I think every decision we make, everything we chose to support, should be based on one simple question - would I support this if it was next to my home, my property, my family?

          • The bookman

            So the only citizens who have any standing to speak to surface mining are those who live under a surface mine? What about someone concerned about manufacturing? Or large scale farming? Or any activity that may be deemed unsavory or detrimental in some way? That is an unreasonable position.

            I agree that if you live next to a surface mine, that your opinion carries weight that mine doesn't. But I also believe that you can't determine the land use of your neighbors when they are engaged in legal activity, and in this case, regulated by government. You live in Southern WV. For now, they still mine coal there. I don't live in Louisiana as I don't like the heat and humidity. We all make choices to live where we live.

          • muse

            Thanks for the update regarding the DNR's plans for that money. I wasn't aware that they had made any public statements about it.

            As for when it will be okay to mine there...It will be okay to mine the coal we "need" when it can be done without adversely impacting the community at large, water quality, and nearby landowners.

            I still contend that you have no business advocating for surface mining until you have had to endure living beneath one. I'm quite serious. If you think it's okay for an absentee, out of state landowner (or an in-state landowner for that matter) to force nearby homeowners to deal with the impacts of a surface mine simply so he can enrich himself, then I know several folks who would be glad to sell you their homes so you can experience the impacts for yourself.

            Its real easy to advocate for surface mining when you don't have to live with the impacts.

            I have no objection to Tom Scholl earning profit but let him do so in a way that doesn't hurt people.

            SMCRA has a provision for "Lands unsuitable for mining" of which this particular location would have been an ideal candidate. The DEP chose not to pursue such a designation.

            And the fact that other mining operations are active nearby does not justify this operation 588 ft from the Forest boundary and less than 1/2 mile from the main entrance. This is a very heavily used section of the Forest and will impact many more people than the Prichard mine at the back end or the Rush Creek mine adjacent to KD#2.

            Also unlike the Rush Creek operations, a community lives downstream of KD#2. Loudendale has already experienced very damaging floods (the most recent in 2003) and is very concerned about the increased risk this mine brings.

            Again, it's easy to be a cheerleader for blowing up mountains when it's not your home and health on the line.

      • ViennaGuy

        OK, thank you all for clarifying it. So now my question is this:

        Does the state, governor, DEP, etc. have the authority to unilaterally rescind a permit for a mine on private property when the permit holder is in compliance with the law and the terms of the permit?

        It seems to me that doing so would require an eminent domain action and compensatory payment to the landowner, provided that the permit holder was in compliance with the law and the permit terms. A permit holder who was in violation of the law and/or their permit would be a different story.

        Rescinding a permit simply because some people don't like the mine seems to be a case of "mob rule," to say nothing of being a violation of private property rights.


        • muse

          First, as I mentioned above, the permit is not valid. DEP is required by State code to get approval from the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) for any surface mine permit that will adversely effect any area listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There is a large section of KSF very near this permit site that is listed. The correspondence between DEP and SHPO shows that DEP was in fact fully aware of this law and was trying to get SHPO approval. SHPO, siting many concerns with the impact of this mine to the forest and the Historic District, has yet to grant its approval. The DEP issued the permit anyway, thus making it an invalid permit.
          Second, the owner has already been in violation of the law at least four times in the past two months, with one of those violations leading to an imminent harm cessation order.
          You cannot surface mine on this scale and not adversely impact water quality and surrounding property owners.

        • The bookman

          A couple things.

          If memory serves correct, this is a surface mine, not MTR. No valley fills, and land back to AOC, approximate original contour. That takes most of the federal oversight out of it.

          A permit is kind of a working, flexible document. Sometimes variances are issued that change the permit, and the requirements of project compliance.

          I think the EPA has demonstrated that given the strength of their resolve, they can and will shut down any operation they choose, although I don't see an entry point here for them to get involved.

          I don't think there is a snowball's chance that this permit gets rescinded. Look at a google shot of the area in question. KSF is flanked by massive surface mines to its Southeast. This area of proposed extraction is located adjacent to KSF in the same area. I spoke with Randy Huffman at a hearing and he summed it up like this. Developing resources is the property owner's right. It is the challenge of the DEP to balance the rights of the property owner with the larger interests of the state and other private property owners. But the responsibility to show cause why the development should not happen is on the state, not the property owner who holds the resource. We should work together to responsibly develop the resource so that the owner and the state as a whole benefit while minimizing any impact to the environment. Those impacts must fall within certain guidelines as established by science as acceptable limits. There is no such thing as zero impact.

          Of course that is the condensed version, and I think that is a tall order for the agency.

          If the DEP were to reject the permit based on the grounds that 4,000 people just didn't want the coal extracted from their personal property, they would certainly have some 'splaining to do, and lawyers would certainly be all to happy to oblige. There have been 4 violations associated with this permit, btw. I don't think they rise to the level of revocation.

        • Aaron

          Also, aren't permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineer with approval by the EPA a requirement? As such, how can the state rescind a federal permit?

          • muse

            Army Corps issues the section 404 Clean Water Act permit. The KD#2 mine won't have a valley fill so they determined that there was no requirement for a 404. The state DEP issues the mining permit at the state level.

  • Tent camper

    2 summers ago, my family was tent camping at campground. At night, was enjoying the pristine forest sounds, heard an owl calling out several times...rather nice. Then for numerous times throughout night, heard continual mining equipment and operation sounds in distance coming from existing mine closeby. I agree that keystone should be stopped and not allowed to further damage the forest in various ways as it has already been compromised from current operation closeby!

    • Pickle Barrel

      Those nasty back-up alarms and diesel engines! I can't hear the owls hooting…The pristine forest sounds are being drowned out...Oh, the humanity!

      • muse

        Yes, that is one of many significant adverse impacts to the KSF and to nearby communities and not to be taken lightly. Other adverse impacts are increased risk of catastrophic flooding, dramatically lowered property values, significantly elevated risk of heart disease, cancer, birth defects, and pulmonary diseases such as copd, asthma, and lung cancer. Many folks in Loudendale are already on oxygen because of lung issues, (in many cases stemming from exposure to other substances that industry once claimed were safe, such as asbestos, and cigarettes) and are very concerned about blasting dust exacerbating their medical conditions.

        • thornton

          You left out an increase in chiggers in the surrounding areas from population drift and greater issues with alcohol from all the stress placed upon the nearby population. Pretty sure that tire wear will be greater as well.
          Basically, this approaches the travesty of fluoride placed in our water.

          • muse

            You're right, the chiggers are hell. :) Not nearly as bad here as they are in Missouri though. The ticks and chiggers in MO put WV to shame.

            Fluoride, meh. I tend to be wary of a government that wants to chose my medication for me. I think my medication ought to be my choice.