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Local Citizen Concerned about Coal Ash Waste Disposal
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by Petra Wood | 2010

The following are comments made by Cassville resident Petra Wood at the WV DEP’s May 26 Informal Conference concerning Patriot Coal’s application for a new permit for its Cassville operation. The permit would greatly expand the strip mining and authorize dumping of huge quantities of power plant coal ash.

My name is Petra Wood and my home is adjacent to the proposed mine.

Seventeen years ago we moved here and have spent many evenings and weekends turning an old farmhouse into a home where we intended to live for the rest of our lives. Now all of our hard work and plans could go down the tubes because of yet another surface mine; this one coming even closer to our home than previous mines.

Many other families living in this area are in a similar situation. Fourteen homes are within 300 feet of this proposed mine, 85 homes are within the 1000 ft primary blasting zone, another 413 lie within the 7/10 mile secondary blasting zone. All of these homes are at risk from blasting damage and all of these families will have to endure 24-hour-a-day noise and fumes from mining equipment and trucks and constant dust from blasting, fly ash, and truck traffic.

Given what we’ve learned about the mining process and the history of violations on previous permits, we are very concerned about the effects that this new mine will have on the health and welfare of hundreds of families living nearby. We’re concerned about the integrity of our home and life that we’ve built over the last 17 years. And we’re concerned about the environment (air and water quality, loss of forests). If you want to see first-hand why we are concerned, take a drive out Walnut Hill Rd to where you can stand near the edge of the mine pit.

We have submitted ~80 pages of comments stating our concerns and pointing out short-comings and inaccuracies in the application for this mine permit. Most of our concerns have been ignored by Patriot and the WV DEP. Many questions and problems remain that must be addressed.

We are very concerned about blasting.

The current blasting operations are over ½ mile away, yet some blasts shake our home like we’re in an earthquake. When the blasting is 300 ft away, will it crack our foundation, windows, or drywall? The permit application states that Patriot plans two blasts per day. So every day for five years hundreds of families would worry about and face potential damage to our homes. We urge DEP to require use of fewer explosives.

We are very concerned about heavy equipment/truck noise.

Operations will be around the clock, and the prospect of noise and lights all night long is particularly distressing. All of us in this community work hard and have a right to peace and quiet when we are at home. WV DEP has the ability to restrict mining operations to daytime hours. We urge you to do so.

We are very concerned about the constant dust...  ...from the mining operation and from the fly ash that will be dumped on this mine.

Disposal of fly ash on surface mines is pervasive in Monongalia County. In 3 watersheds near Cassville, up to 10,000 tons per acre of fly ash have been dumped on at least 3,500 acres of surface mines. That is millions of tons of ash! The New Hill West permit would add even more.

Many studies, including studies by EPA and the National Academy of Sciences found toxic trace metals and increased total dissolved solids (TDS) leaching from ash dumped on surface mines. High TDS led to the ecological disaster that destroyed all aquatic life in 35 miles of Dunkard Creek. Could the millions of tons of ash deposited in the Monongahela River watershed be contributing to high TDS loading in the river and its tributaries? Very little monitoring for toxic trace metals or for TDS is occurring at any of the mines that have used ash. No true assessment of the cumulative impact has been completed, and it should be before this new permit is approved.

Fly ash often becomes airborne on the mines and on nearby roads as we’ve all seen on Route 7. Breathing these fine particles could lead to serious respiratory diseases. Air quality in Monongalia County is poor and ash probably makes it worse. Our home is over ½ mile from the current mine pit, but we regularly have black particles on our windowsills. How much ash particulates are we already breathing?

Fly ash must be disposed of responsibly, in regulated landfills, to avoid negative consequences for human and environmental health. These are extra costs for companies, but a company that generates wastes should have to pay for proper disposal just as homeowners must pay for disposal of the waste they generate. Our community should not continue to be used as a dumping ground for hazardous coal ash waste.

We are very concerned that the proposed mine will come to the edge of our property.

We have submitted numerous reasons why there should be at least a 100 ft setback from the road and the property line, but this issue has not been addressed by Patriot or WV DEP. How much of our land and how many of our trees would slide into the mine pit if it comes right to our property line?  If the mine is right at the edge of the road, will families that live on this road be able to safely enter and leave our homes? WV DEP has the authority to require the set-back, and we urge that you do so.

As part of our comments submitted to WV DEP we asked for this public meeting so that local families could express their concerns now, before the permit is issued. Once the permit is approved, it would be too late; unless it is appealed. We also asked for this meeting, so that you, WV DEP, will hopefully keep in mind that the decisions you are making would affect the lives of hundreds of families in profound ways for many years. We all have a right to live our lives in a peaceful, quiet, and healthy environment.

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