Wyoming County Families Want Coal Company to Restore Water
This story has been updated.
Twenty-six families say that a coal company is responsible for damaging their water supply. Trial for 16 of those families begins Monday, April 11, in Wyoming County Circuit Court.
The court has already ordered Dynamic Energy, a subsidiary of Mechel Bluestone Inc., to provide a temporary water solution for residents involved in the case Belcher vs Dynamic Energy. Paulette Blankenship is one of the residents who is currently getting water from the company.
Blankenship built her colonial style home with her husband. Her temporary water supply currently sits in her back yard, about a 5 feet tall tank covered in tarps with a valve and single rock perched on top.
“They come about three times a week and deliver water into this,” she said.
According to court documents, residents filed their complaints in May 2014. The families say that Mechel Bluestone violated the law, the West Virginia Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Act and damaged several wells along Cedar Creek Rd.
While awaiting trial, the plaintiffs filed a motion in October 2014 for the company to replace their water. Two months later, the court granted the motion based on the residents' need for clean water to “meet their basic needs for survival.”
Water testing presented by the plaintiffs showed high levels of arsenic, aluminum, lead, iron and other pollutants. It took eight months, and another court order before residents like Paulette got a temporary solution for clean water. Paulette and her husband say they’re not trying to create problems in the small town with anyone who might work at the surface mine site.
“We taught our children, everyday in school, stand up for what’s right and if you have been wronged stand up for your rights, " Paulette Blankenship said. And that’s basically what we’re doing. We’re standing up for our right to live on this land to live in this house unencumbered with contaminated water. We want what we had before simply.”
Paulette and the rest of the plaintiffs involved in this suit are asking for permanent water replacement. Her attorneys have estimated the replacement for a reverse osmosis system would cost $57,000 per household.
Mechel Bluestone's attorney, James Brown, did not want to comment on the case on the eve of the trial. The company maintains that they are not responsible and that the mining practice did not contaminate these water systems.
Mechel Bluestone is owned by front runner for state Governor, Jim Justice. Justice sold the mine to a Russian company in 2009 but bought it back last year.
The residents along parts of Cedar Creek Road in Wyoming County are represented by Thompson and Barney out of Charleston. The attorneys recently won a case against a different coal company formerly owned by Patriot Coal in Wyoming County. In that case, the new permit holder is now required to supply permanent water to residents in part of Clear Fork.
A Justice Companies spokesman said in a statement that Bluestone has been hauling fresh water to each house for years since this case was brought against the Russian company.
The statement says West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection scientists have found that there is no correlation between this mine and the wells in question and that, “Anyone with a legitimate issue we will make whole.”
The statement also says Bluestone is challenging the lawsuit because it doesn’t want to risk losing 150 union coal mining jobs.
This story was updated on April 11, 2016, to reflect the fact that it was a Justice Companies spokesman, not a Justice campaign spokesman, who issued a response to the lawsuit.