Mountaintop Removal
10:16 pm
Sun July 13, 2014

New Coalition Battles Mine Site Near State Forest

About 7 miles outside of Charleston sits 9,300 acres of protected land. The Kanawha State Forest is home to hiking and biking trails, campsites and a shooting range, but just a few hundred acres away, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has approved a mountain top removal mine site.

Kanawha County resident Doug Woods points out Middle Lick Mountain just over his shoulder, a site that has been approved for mountaintop removal mining near the Kanawha State Forest.
Kanawha County resident Doug Woods points out Middle Lick Mountain just over his shoulder, a site that has been approved for mountaintop removal mining near the Kanawha State Forest.
Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The Kanawha State Forest Coalition, a group of concerned Kanawha County residents, formed to fight the site and get the administration to withdraw the permit, saving hundreds of plant and animal species on Middle Lick Mountain where mining is set to begin.

The Permit:

The original proposal for Keystone Industries' KD #2 was filed with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection in 2009. The site on Middle Lick Mountain, however, wasn't approved until May 2014. During that time, the permit was altered.

As it stands:

  • The proposed site included nearly 600 acres of land to be mined, the approved permit includes only 414 acres.
  • Two proposed coal seams on the side of Middle Lick Mountain facing the Kanawha State Forest were removed, increasing the buffer zone from 300 to 588 feet.
  • Blasting times during the heaviest hours of park usage, on holidays and weekends, is to be limited to emergencies only.
  • The side of the mountain facing the park is to be mined last, "limiting the time the operation is visible to park visitors."
  • Seven million tons of coal are expected to be mined over a 10 year period.
  • The site must be restored to its original contour and a selection of native hardwoods are to be replanted.

The Fight:

The closeness to the state forest and the impact on native plant and animal species are two of the major reasons the Kanawha State Forest Coalition formed. The group of concerned citizens has gone door-to-door to educate people living in the area about the mine and have them sign a petition asking the governor to order the withdraw of the permit.

"It's a chance to raise our voices up as one," Chad Cordell said, one of the group's leaders.

The group held a public meeting in Kanawha City last week to talk about how to fight the mine. The meeting drew more than 200 county residents.

A group of Loudendale residents have also filed an appeal with the DEP's Surface Mine Board to have the permit axed.

The Defense:

Acting Director of the Division of Mining and Reclamation Harold Ward said in an interview Friday the site wouldn't have been approved if the DEP wasn't confident in the proposed mining and reclamation processes.

Blast warning signs are posted throughout the forest on sites near Middle Lick Mountain.
Blast warning signs are posted throughout the forest on sites near Middle Lick Mountain.
Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

David Vande Linde, chief of the DEP’s Office Explosives and Blasting, said while there are warning signs posted now about the possibility of fly rock during blasting times, there are more requirements in the permit. The mine company must make sure no one is present before they blast.

“In this case, we’ve said arbitrarily that at least 1,000 feet out, which is more than necessary a lot of times, from any blast, we’ll make sure that no one is in the area on these facilities," he said.

"So, for example, say the Lindy Trail. They would check the first 250 or so feet and then post somebody up there and make sure no one comes down there while they’re shooting.”

Both men point to the changes in the permit as going above and beyond state regulations for a typical mountain top removal mine site.

The Hike:

The final requirement of the permit, the site reclamation plan, is what brought Doug Wood and members of the Kanawha State Forest Coalition to hike the park, counting species of trees, shrubs and forbs along the way.

Participants in the hike stop to count a number of plants species in the Kanawha State Forest.
Participants in the hike stop to count a number of plants species in the Kanawha State Forest.
Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Wood, who worked for the DEP for 33 years until he retired in 2011, explained the point of the exercise was to show people how many different types of species live in a landscape similar to the mountain set to be mined now and how many will actually be replaced when the mining is over.

The group counted nearly 100 species total. Wood claimed only about eight would be required to be replaced.