By Cindy Rank
For the past ten years readers of the Highlands Voice have seen a multitude of articles about Arch Coal’s ICG Tygart Leer mine next to the Tygart Lake and State Park in Taylor County and the impacts of that operation on the water and homes and properties that overlie the 6,000-acre longwall mine. Especially poignant were those forceful but heartbreaking stories by Beth Baldwin who took us on the journey as her family farm was subsided and their home destroyed.
Our reports have been fewer, but the mine hasn’t stopped. In the June 2020 issue of the Voice Save the Tygart Watershed Association (STTWA) wrote about three current threats to the Tygart River near Grafton WV. — One of those threats is the most recent revision/addition to the Leer mine.
Save the Tygart has been a strong ally during the several years of water testing by West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the local group TEAM (Taylor Environmental Advocacy Membership) and Downstream Strategies. And though our own monitoring efforts are now dormant and the communities within the thousands of acres of land being undermined by Arch Coal are consumed with the immediate personal problems of subsidence, well water impacts, and restoration for damages, Save the Tygart Watershed Association volunteers continue to actively monitor several points downstream of the Leer operation.
As their concerns grow the most recent mine revision #21 is particularly alarming as it threatens to impact Three Fork Creek, a tributary to theTygart River that STTWA has been actively working – and successfully – to bring back to life.
In his article in the June Voice, Stan Jennings, President of STTWA, wrote:
“As part of the extension, Arch is proposing to drain the mine by drilling two boreholes … which will result in a predicted artesian discharge of 3,465 gallons per minute into Three Fork Creek. According to the revision, water chemistry in the existing Leer mine pool is as follows: pH 7.19, Fe 8.44 mg/l, TDS 2156 mg/l, sulfates 902 mg/l, and specific conductance of 3120 umhos/cm.
The company proposes to build two large ponds to treat the discharge from the mine pool. The company also theorizes that treatment will be required for 38 years before the iron concentration will be reduced to 1.5 mg/l. We are very concerned about this very long term treatment proposal, plus the TDS, sulfates, and conductivity levels of the discharge.
Originally the permit called for “first mining” only under Little Sandy Creek and some of its tributaries, but the latest revision completely removes these protections [i.e. potentially causing subsidence and dewatering as well as contamination of the streams]. We requested an informal conference and over 40 people attended, but we think it’s likely that the revision will be approved.”
Indeed, the likely scenario happened; the revision was approved; and now STTWA is appealing that decision to the WV Surface Mine Board.
Save the Tygart Watershed Association is asking the appeal Board to review whether or not WVDEP adequately considered the essential questions of fact and law before issuing the revision and to direct the agency to modify its decision accordingly.
QUESTIONS OF FACT
1. Whether the permitted mining activity will subside and dewater streams, causing significant disruption to stream flow or causing stream collapse.
2. Whether the permitted mining activity will create polluted mine discharges without a defined endpoint.
3. Whether the permitted mining activity will create polluted mine discharges in perpetuity.
4. Whether ICG Tygart’s projected total cost of $7,423,877 is an accurate calculation of the amount necessary to meet all anticipated treatment needs.
5. Whether ICG Tygart’s projected total cost of $7,423,877 guarantees sufficient money will be available to fund perpetual postmining pollutional discharge treatment or postmining pollutional discharge treatment with no defined endpoint.
6. Whether the bond amount is sufficient to guarantee money is available to treat pollutional discharges, and conduct reclamation at the site?
QUESTIONS OF LAW
1. Whether Revision #21 unlawfully permits mining activity that will violate water quality
2. Whether Revision #21 unlawfully permits mining activity that will create off-site material damage to the hydrologic balance and significant adverse impacts to the hydrologic and biological components of aquatic ecosystems.
3. Whether Revision #21 unlawfully permits mining activity that creates polluted mine discharges requiring treatment with no defined endpoint.
4. Whether Revision #21 unlawfully permits mining activity that creates polluted mine discharges requiring perpetual treatment.
5. Whether Revision #21 improperly allows for an alternative bonding system that cannot meet all anticipated treatment needs.
6. Whether Revision #21 improperly allows for an alternative bonding system that cannot guarantee sufficient money will be available to fund perpetual treatment of postmining pollutional discharges.
7. Whether the sample submitted by ICG Tygart constituted a sufficient basis for determining an endpoint for pollutional discharges
Dewatered streams, mine pools, polluted headwater streams, insufficient bonding, long term toxic drainage — all are issues that the Conservancy has long been concerned about in many other places across the state and certainly here at the Leer mine in particular.
We will be watching as the appeal makes its way through the process.