By Donald B. Clark
In the early fall of 1998, strip mining of coal began on Smith Mountain (Crab Orchard Mountain) by the Cumberland Coal Company LLC. The County Executive and state & local officials heard about it when residents began complaining about the 18 wheeler trucks driving at high speed on gravel and narrow roads. The roads were disintegrating, a school bus was nearly forced off the road as were some citizens╣ cars. A public meeting was called in the Hebbertsburg Community Center, attended by all kinds of officials. The Company agreed not to run trucks when the school buses were picking up and discharging students. Misleading and false statements were made about money being available from the coal tax to pay for the road destruction. Some local residents claimed their wells were going bad and blasting and dust were troublesome. The roads were improved even using some donated mine overburden.
The owner (H.E. Hearn) stated that a delegation of residents would be welcome to visit the operation but when environmental groups with experts took him up on the offer, they were refused admittance.
The environmental groups said that the permit should not have been granted as it was contrary to the state Anti-degradation Statement and good sense. The remining of the abandoned mine occurs in the notorious Sewanee seam that has resulted in stream desecration through acid or toxic mine drainage virtually everywhere it has been undertaken, The Whitwell Shale overburden (60-200 feet thick on the site) is the major culprit in the seam. The Sewanee seam has been the subject of a Lands Unsuitable for Mining Petition (LUMP) for the Fall Creek Falls area (which was won after several years of struggle) and litigation involving the Big Brush II mine that forced major changes in the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) permit. Studies have shown that no reclamation plan can be trusted or effluent treatment process works for long.
Using the precautionary principle, no mining should have been permitted or allowed to continue. The mine discharges water into streams that have been afforded the highest protection under the Clean Water Act (Tier 3) in the Obed watershed . Part of the water gets into the Emory watershed without passing through the Obed. It deserves higher protection but was seriously degraded by earlier mining that has polluted Crab Orchard Creek for many years.
The Cumberland Coal Company has been mining about 1800 tons of coal a day since then. They have had several infractions of their permits, which OSM of the Dept. of the Interior and the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation (TDEC) have been extremely lenient in tolerating. A mishap, a breaching of a catchment basin or the failure to sufficiently neutralize the acidic runoff in the 6 basins (all leaking) could destroy Daddys Creek forever. Even neutralized runoff destroys aquatic critters though some biological studies seem to deny it. . We have been holding our breath since the mine opened and since early in 1999 have tried to trust TDEC to reign in the seemingly unending problems and lack of redundancy (backup treatment facilities). The Company was fined a Civil Penalty by TDEC of $5,250 after well over a year of inadequate correction efforts. We contend that the Company deserved to be fined $10,000 a day for several months and to face criminal charges as well. It should not pay to pollute and desecrate. The polluter should pay and we should not be stuck with cleanup which is very likely in this case.
They are now running out of coal to stripmine but have not decided to quit the desecration and institute reclamation measures for the perpetual treatment of the runoff from the mine site. Instead, they want to go underground., going under the existing seeping basins and using the same basins for water from the mine and coal processing operations that have unending problems.
Environmental groups say that OSM & TDEC cannot issue a new permit for underground mining because they cannot prove that the existent mine will not need perpetual treatment /reclamation efforts. You cannot permit a new mine that would also need perpetual reclamation efforts. But that has not bothered the OSM . Hopefully TDEC will save the area by refusing the permit.
On Friday March 15, a community meeting will be held in the Hebbertsburg
Community Center at 7:30 PM to discuss what will be presented in part
2 of this series, namely, the serious implications of underground mining.
On Tuesday, March 26 at 6:00 PM CST TDEC will conduct a hearing on the
water permit for the underground mine in the Cumberland County Courthouse.
(Usual last par.)
Donald B. Clark
725 words approx.