Massey's giant coal silo looms over Marsh Fork
Elementary School, with a 2.8 billion gallon
sludge pond lurking on the mountain above

(Hur Herald Photo)

By Bob Weaver

A Kanawha County Circuit judge has upheld a decision that allows Massey Energy's Goals Coal Co. to build a second coal silo a few feet away from Marsh Fork Elementary School in Raleigh County.

The construction of the silo and a multi-billion gallon sludge pond above the school has been the subject of consternation by Raleigh County residents and environmentalists for several years. Judge Duke Bloom agreed with the state's Surface Mine Board that the Department of Environmental Protection was wrong to deny Massey a permit application for the new silo.

Coal River Mountain Watch is appealing the decision.

Robert Kennedy, Jr. was at the school this summer, filming his upcoming documentary "Crimes against Nature," he said "This is a crime against the children of West Virginia, bolstered by powerful politicians."

The DEP and Massey began battling over the silo in July 2005, when agency officials revoked a permit for the second of two coal silos Massey was proposing.

The DEP acted after the Charleston Gazette revealed the silo was proposed to be built outside the permit area shown on site maps submitted by Massey's own engineers.

The case before Judge Bloom focused on the DEP's interpretation that construction of the silo would violate a prohibition on new surface mining operations within a 300-foot protected area around the school.

Last March, the mine board threw out the DEP decision, ruling the agency interpretation meant that "even the slightest modification" of a mining operation is prohibited if it is within 300 feet of a school.

In a 21-page decision, Bloom noted that Goals Coal and previous owners had used the Sundial site as a coal processing and load-out facility since the late 1970s.

The use of the adjacent property for a public school was not to be considered until the federal strip mine law was passed in 1977, making the issue exempt from the 300-foot buffer zone.

Bloom also ruled against Coal River Mountain Watch, over their issues related to the silo's proximity to the public school.

Massey President Don Blankenship said "...Given the concern that this case generated in the community, we will not construct the silo until we have met with the governor's office and with officials from Marsh Fork Elementary School."

Gov. Manchin has yet to directly intervene in the issue, but most parents of children going to the school are employed by Massey and support the Massey silo as not being injurious.

Judy Bonds of Coal River Mountain Watch said "It is difficult to believe that ordinary people who are concerned about the safety and health of children could consider defending the silos and the threat of the Massey impoundment."

See Crimes Against West Virginia

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