The Times West Virginian

May 7, 2014

DEP reviewing impact of proposed mine ventilation shaft

Citizens concerned about site near Tygart Lake State Park

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is focused on gathering additional information and determining the potential impacts of a mine ventilation shaft proposed for Grafton.

ICG Tygart Valley LLC, which is a subsidiary of Arch Coal Inc., wants to construct an air shaft or ventilation shaft for the Leer Mining Complex at a site near Tygart Lake State Park. On Tuesday, DEP announced that it is requiring the mine company to study some issues that have been brought up related to the permit revision.

“We’re requiring further review,” said Kelley Gillenwater, communications director for DEP. “We want studies on the noise and its potential impacts, and while we don’t foresee any issues related to the methane, we do want a more detailed review of that. We want to make sure that that is studied further and that any potential impacts are identified.”

DEP has also requested that the Leer Mine identify a second potential location for the construction of this air shaft.

In addition, DEP has asked the mine to refile the permit modification application as a Significant Incidental Boundary Revision (IBR) instead of an Insignificant IBR, which is how it was originally filed. The difference between these two designations is that the Significant IBR requires a 30-day public comment period and four advertisements, but the Insignificant IBR doesn’t require any advertising or public comment period at all, Gillenwater said.

On April 29, DEP held a public hearing in Grafton at the Paradise Cove Community Center, which was packed for the event. Gillenwater said quite a few speakers from the community and different agencies addressed the crowd. DEP is taking into consideration all the public comments that were received at the meeting and in writing.

Kim Link, spokeswoman for Arch Coal, provided the following statement about the permit hearing:

“Mine management at the Leer Complex made a commitment to the residents near Tygart Lake to investigate and consider the possibilities of locating the ventilation shaft at another site. We’re currently looking into this possibility.

“We pride ourselves on being good neighbors and look forwarding to being a proud part of the Grafton community for years to come.”

According to Arch Coal, the proposed area for the location of the shaft will provide the best ventilation for the health and safety of the workers based on the Leer Mine’s geology and design. The site is about 4,000 feet away from Tygart Lake and the lodge.

Right now, the location that has been proposed has a gas well on it. Before building the ventilation shaft, the company will remove and plug the gas well. Once the construction gets under way, the company intends to utilize techniques to keep the surface disturbance and activity to a minimum, Arch Coal said.

Harold Ward, acting mining director for the DEP’s Division of Mining and Reclamation, explained that an exhaust fan would remove air from the mine and in turn keep fresh air in the face of the mine. Only a very low level of methane would go into the air from the shaft, but DEP wants to look into the technical aspects and ask more questions as part of an overall technique review.

“Federal law requires that the air exiting the shaft be maintained at a level below 2 percent methane,” Arch Coal stated. “All the longwall mines in this MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration) district are ventilated using this same system. As soon as the mine air mixes with the outside air, the methane will immediately be dispersed. Because methane is lighter than air, it will rise. Methane is non-toxic and concentrations at the mine shaft will be monitored regularly and maintained at a level beneath the required level.”

Ward commented that the public concern about the noise from the shaft’s large fan must be taken into consideration because of the campground, called Lakeside Resort Campground, near the proposed property. While DEP regulations do not include significant noise levels, the agency wants to have the full information in order to determine what impacts the project could have.

He said these fans can be very noisy if they’re completely unrestricted, but there have been some recent technological developments that can cut down the noise quite a bit. The possible impact of the noise on the wildlife will also be reviewed.

“We plan to use barriers, sound-dampening devices and trees to minimize the sound of the fan,” Arch Coal said.

Susan and P.J. Alasky, who have lived in Farmington for about 40 years, have always had a passion for Tygart Lake State Park. They have enjoyed boating in Grafton for about 34 years, and for the last five years, they have had a summer home near the park.

The family’s summer camp is very close to the proposed site for the Leer Mine air shaft.

Susan is uneasy about the sound that would come from the large fan that would be part of the ventilation shaft. She said this noise would be continuous and would likely amplify throughout Tygart Lake State Park, disturbing the families at the nearby campground and homes. She is also worried about the possibility of chemicals going into the lake and any tributaries, and the methane gas from the shaft that would be emitted into the air.

“We’re concerned about the wildlife being interrupted and going away,” Susan said.

She stressed that she and other community members are in no way against the coal mine or the coal miners, or putting in the proposed ventilation shaft. They just want this shaft to be located at a different site that is farther away from the park.

“Once it happens in our state, it could happen to all the state parks,” she said. “If we don’t get any action, we’re going to go to Charleston. We need to let the governor know and the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) ... know how concerned we are.”

The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, which includes the state’s parks, like Tygart Lake, has been involved with DEP on the Leer Mine project since it was proposed.

“DNR does have some concerns about this project, and we’re meeting with DEP officials and public comments are being taken and our comments our being added to those,” said Hoy Murphy, public information officer for DNR. “We’re hopeful that DEP will be able to respond to those concerns and try to come up with a solution that everybody can live with.”

He emphasized that DNR and the state parks are not against coal mining, which is an important industry to Taylor County. These types of concerns come up any time a new mine project is proposed, Murphy said.

For about seven years, Debbie Shaffer has owned the Lakeside Resort Campground in Grafton, but she and her husband Duane actually started running the place a couple of years prior for the previous owners. They have done a lot of work to the turn the campground into a popular family destination.

Debbie said close to 100 families come from West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and other places to stay at the site all summer. This year, before she and Duane knew about the proposed ventilation shaft, they put in their own house at the entrance of the campground.

Debbie guessed that her campground is about 440 feet from the proposed mine shaft, and her home is only 75 feet away from that site. Some families who come every summer have said that they may have to start camping in Ohio if the project comes to life.

“I just don’t want to see it ruin our business here,” she said. “We love the lake."

Families want the peace and tranquility that they know and love at Tygart Lake State Park to remain intact, Debbie said.

Also, visitors spend their money at the businesses in town — from gas stations and grocery stores to restaurants and other shops. Not only will the campground suffer if the proposed air shaft becomes a reality, but all of Taylor County will also feel the negative effects if campers chose to go somewhere else, she said.

Beth and Larry Baldwin and their daughter Sarah, who is getting ready to graduate from Grafton High School, reside almost exactly one mile from Tygart Lake State Park. This has been their home for about nine years.

“We are very concerned about the community,” Beth said of the proposal for the Leer Mine air shaft.

She has been a part of the Taylor Environmental Advocacy Membership, or TEAM, a small group of people representing the community on this issue. The members have been meeting to discuss what is happening, and have also worked with different experts in providing information and testing water on local people’s land.

“The community water source is a huge concern for us, especially after what happened in Charleston,” Beth said, refering to the chemical spill into the Elk River at the beginning of the year that affected the water supply in nine West Virginia counties.

“Why even take that chance? Why even put people through that stress? Just the perception that there is a risk is going to be an effect.”

TEAM wants to protect the community and preserve the state park.

“We plan to work and appeal and do whatever we need to do to make sure this does as little damage as possible,” she said. “The community support has been has very reassuring.”

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.