Rush Creek Mine Plan Moves Charleston, W.Va., Neighbor to Act

A Charleston man is trying to alert his neighbors about the problems he believes will be caused by a mountaintop removal coal mine proposed for his neighborhood.

Dec. 17—A Charleston man is trying to alert his neighbors about the problems he believes will be caused by a mountaintop removal coal mine proposed for his neighborhood.

Barney Frazier of Mount Alpha Road hopes other residents of the area will join him to fight the project.

"I am concerned about the things that typically go with surface mining and mountaintop removal mining — things like dust and shots and vibrations," Frazier said this week.

Fort Myers, Fla.-based Keystone Industries is seeking permits for a 375-acre mountaintop removal operation along Rush Creek, south of Charleston.

If it obtains those permits, Keystone would mine about 1.9 million tons of coal over a five-year period. The company hopes to start mining in June 2005, state Department of Environmental Protection records show.

Keystone will use huge shovels and dozers to uncover coal seams. The leftover rock and dirt — more than 19 million cubic yards of it — will be shoved into nearby valleys, burying nearly one-half mile of streams.

Keystone would open its Rush Creek No. 2 Surface Mine near an adjacent operation on land now owned by Tom L. Scholl.

Starting Dec. 6, Keystone published a series of newspaper ads to notify the public about its permit application.

Frazier, a Charleston lawyer, is writing to his neighbors to urge them to oppose the mining project before the end of a state DEP Division of Mining and Reclamation public comment period ends in late January.

"I have concerns about the noise, both day and night — just the basic things that affect my enjoyment of my property, and quite frankly, the value of my property," Frazier said.

Tony Coleman, superintendent of Keystone Industries, was not in his office this week and could not be reached for comment.

In October, Frazier wrote to members of Kanawha County's legislative delegation, to seek help in opposing the mining operation.

DEP Secretary Stephanie Timmermeyer responded with a letter in which she assured Frazier that Keystone Industries was not requesting a variance from the approximate original contour, or AOC, reclamation variance, and would not be conducting mountaintop removal mining.

In a Nov. 5 letter, Timmermeyer said the company's proposal "is considered an 'area' mine on steep slope with contour mining and auger mining."

But the permit application, on file at the Kanawha County Courthouse, shows that Keystone is seeking an AOC variance.

On some parts of the mine site, Keystone will remove more than 100 vertical feet of entire ridges.

"The mining operation will consist of removing entire coal seams running through the upper fraction of a mountain, hill or ridge," the application says, echoing the legal definition of a mountaintop removal mine.

To obtain an AOC variance, coal operators are required to propose plans for post-mining development of mine sites to a higher or better use.

In its application, Keystone proposes to change the post-mining land use from forestland to a mix of "fish and wildlife habitat and recreation lands" and forestland.

Generally, the fish and wildlife habitat post-mining land use is not allowed for mountaintop removal mines with AOC variances.

In 1998, a Gazette investigation found that DEP was widely approving permits with that land use anyway. The federal Office of Surface Mining confirmed the Gazette's findings. OSM and DEP promised to reform their permit procedures.

Keystone says in its permit application that it plans to turn the Rush Creek mine site into a "commercial bird-hunting park."

"Hunters will be pleased to know that there is an area within 15 minutes of Charleston that will provide for the private hunting of ring-neck pheasant and other wild game that will be attracted to the area due to the proposed habitat enhancement," the company says in its application.

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© 2004, The Charleston Gazette, W.Va. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.