The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection heard from the public Wednesday over whether it should allow coal mining to resume at a strip mine in Tucker County.
Mining stopped at the Beacon Mine after the West Virginia Department of Highways took 43 acres of the permit to build Corridor H, which is part of the Appalachian Development Highway System.
Mine operator, Beacon Resources, was never able to restart operations and in 2013 sold the mine to Keystone Coal Reserves. Since then, the now 136-acre site has sat largely inactive. Now, Keystone wants to start mining.
Many of the residents and conservation groups who attended Wednesday’s virtual meeting, which was requested by conservation group Friends of Blackwater, feared mining pollution could undo years of restoration work on nearby Beaver Creek — a tributary of the Blackwater River — and hurt outdoor recreation in the area.
“This surface mining is within the Beaver Creek watershed with impacts on water quality and ongoing stream restoration that many state and local agencies have committed to improving,” said Emmie Cornell with Friends of Blackwater. “Beaver Creek has recently been restored and improved enough to support trout, a milestone that would be devastating to have threatened by the discharge from this mining and future reclamation site.”
DEP officials said the mining operation would be subject to period inspections including water testing upstream and downstream of its sediment ponds on Beaver Creek.
Others, like Matt Hauger, a resident of Davis, expressed concerns that Keystone Coal Reserves would not fully reclaim and restore the site as required under their permit and by law.
“The economics of the situation were such that the original permit holder was allowed to leave the site devastatingly compromised, to leave open landscape sore, a dangerous landscape sore that has been there for far, far too long,” he said. “Might that happen again? Why take the risk? Is this really the only way that we can proceed?”
In a question and answer period prior to taking public comment, Division of Mining and Reclamation Acting Permit Supervisor Clarence Wright said the DEP would step in if the company were to fail to do reclamation, but it would prefer to allow Keystone to move forward with mining.
Wright said in recent years, while trying to restart operations, the company had come close to forfeiting its bond.
“DEP would prefer they didn’t. If they continue their mining and get this reclaimed it would save DEP and the state of West Virginia a lot of money,” he said.
The agency is accepting comments on the permit renewal number S200710 until 5 p.m. on Thursday. You can email them to Clarence.E.Wright@wv.gov.
DEP is also accepting comments on the mine’s water pollution permit, or National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System or NPDES permit, WV1029444 , until July 3.