What’s afoot with Turkeyfoot

By Cindy Rank

As noted in the April issue of the Voice, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) approved a surface mine permit for the Republic Energy (formerly Alpha Metallurgical, formerly Contura Energy, formerly Alpha Natural Resources, formerly Massey) Turkeyfoot mine planned for Clear Fork in Raleigh County.

The Turkeyfoot permit encompasses 1,085+ acres of Coal River Mountain and includes a combination of multiple mining methods technically known as ‘highwall mining’, ‘area mining’, ‘contour mining’, ‘auger mining’, and ‘steep slope mining’.  Put ‘em all together and the end result is more mountains torn apart, more headwater streams obliterated, and daily blasting of rock spreading blankets of poisonous dust onto communities below.

It may not meet the technical definition of Mountaintop Removal, but the effect is quite the same.

Bottom line: folks in southern WV and members of groups like Coal River Mountain Watch are still fighting for their lives and communities as WVDEP continues to permit mammoth surface mines, whatever they’re called.

Now comes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to decide whether or not to grant a 404 permit and approve the valley fills that will bury 3.5 miles of streams and 1.79 acres of wetlands. – But only after and in conjunction with WVDEP’s evaluation of its own 401 certification that the proposed fills won’t violate conditions specific to the state of West Virginia nor violate WV Water Quality Standards.

Comments to the Corps with regard to the Clean Water Act 404 permit are due July 17th.

As for WVDEP action, the good folks at Appalmad submitted extensive comments June 18th on behalf of WVHC, Appalachian Voices, OVEC, and Sierra.

In brief, our comments state on page 3 that WVDEP must deny Republic Energy’s application because (1) the applicant’s alternatives analysis is insufficient for purposes of West Virginia’s antidegradation policy, (2) the Turkeyfoot Surface Mine will inevitably lead to water quality standards violations, (3) WVDEP has a demonstrated history of inaccurately concluding that valley fills will not cause water quality standards violations, and (4) the proposed compensatory mitigation is inadequate.

In brief: Valley Fills irrevocably harm streams and will do so here.

What follows is a 96 page seamlessly woven tapestry linking together highlights of the past twenty years-worth of studies, research, policy papers, court decisions, discharge and in-stream water quality and benthic data.

If anyone doubts that filling headwater streams with mining rubble doesn’t have a severe, long-term negative impact on the physical, biological and chemical health and well-being of our precious waters, and those of us who rely on them, I recommend setting aside a few hours to read and digest the lengthy set of comments and the additional CD of a gazillion (I have yet to make an accurate count) exhibits of the complete texts of research, testimony, decisions, and documentation referenced throughout the comments.Whether or not WVDEP or the Corps have learned anything or developed a spine these past two decades remains to be seen. Meanwhile residents in the Coal River Mountain area will continue to bear the brunt of harmful decisions.