April 16, 2009
Threats to Communities, Whitewater River Force WV Mining Permit Appeal
Ansted, West Virginia -- Unacceptable threats to local communities, world-class whitewater rapids and historic sites have forced the Sierra Club and the Ansted Historic Preservation Council to appeal a surface mining permit for Fayette County, West Virginia, renewed on March 18. The Bridge Fork West Surface Mine, located between the New and Gauley Rivers in West Virginia, is operated by Powellton Coal Company LLC, a subsidiary of Fola Coal Company and Consol Energy.
The groups insist that Powellton Coal is violating the Clean Water Act by dumping illegal levels of toxic aluminum, iron and suspended solids into Rich Creek, a trout stream that feeds into the Gauley River. But the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) renewed Powellton’s permit last month, so the groups are appealing that renewal.
"This permit renewal would lead to pollution of our famed rivers, more blasting and air pollution, and more damage to our tourism industry, so we firmly oppose this renewal," said Father Roy Gene Crist, President of the Ansted Historic Preservation Council.
The Gauley River has more than 100 major rapids and a 650 foot vertical drop and is a destination for whitewater enthusiasts from around the world.
"These rivers are premier world-class scenic and recreational attractions," said Jim Sconyers, WV Chapter Chair of the Sierra Club. "We can't afford to ruin them."
More than 3,000 public comments came in to DEP opposing this permit. And the National Park Service expressed its opposition to the permit in a January 2009 letter from New River Gorge National River, Gauley River National Recreational Area and Bluestone National Scenic River Superintendent Don Striker to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection:
"In consideration of the water quality violations at this site, apparent violations at other mine sites operated by Powellton, and the cumulative impacts to the environment, we request that DEP deny this permit renewal until a full evaluation of cumulative effects can occur with public input. In addition, site conditions, and current violations be fully investigated, and until Powellton can fully demonstrate compliance with all State and Federal standards throughout the site and all mine related activities," Striker wrote.
It is illegal to renew permits when existing permits are being violated, the groups argue. Powellton, therefore, does not merit a permit renewal.
"The DEP has shown that it cares little for the economy of WV by allowing the coal industry to continue to diminish the beauty of the New and Gauley River area," said Sierra Club Environmental Justice organizer Bill Price in Charleston.
The groups are represented in the challenge by Derek Teaney of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment.