Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Grand jury indicts coal company

Grand jury indicts coal company
By Cassondra Kirby

LOST CREEK --An Eastern Kentucky coal company has been indicted on a wanton endangerment charge, accused of creating dangerous driving conditions with its water truck on a busy Perry County road.
Since Jan. 1, employees of the Frasure Creek Coal LLC mountaintop mining site in Lost Creek have excessively watered down Ky. 1146, creating muddy, slippery road conditions, the indictment alleges.
The indictment also says that employees operated the watering truck in the middle of the road, forcing motorists "to pass in a dangerous manner," a Perry County grand jury said.
The indictment against Frasure Creek, a subsidiary of Trinity Coal of West Virginia, was filed Friday. A court date has not been set.
Officials with Frasure Creek declined to comment on the charge yesterday. Jeff Hoops, a Trinity Coal official, did not return phone messages.
During lunch yesterday at Campbell's BP gas station at Ky. 1146 and Ky. 80, several Lost Creek residents said they hope the grand jury indictment will lead to change.
"I don't have a problem with them working and hauling, just the mud and the water," said Mike Thompson, who lives above the mine site and travels Ky. 1146 daily. Thompson said his son was involved in a crash on the road and there have been about half a dozen other wrecks in the past year.
Thompson and other residents say they want the coal company to blacktop its haul road -- the road coal trucks travel down before turning onto Ky. 1146 -- and then install a tire pressure washer at the end of the haul road so trucks' tires are clean when they pull out onto the road.
The haul road is dirt and gravel, which the company is required by law to wet in order to keep the dust down. When the road is wet, the coal trucks pick up the mud on their tires along with the typical muck found on the mining site and track it out onto Ky. 1146, residents say.
Both roads are watered hourly. The watering has continued, despite the grand jury indictment.
Because the road slopes downward, the water and muck stays on the road or rolls down Ky. 1146 to Campbell's BP at the bottom of the hill, residents say.
Eddie Campbell of Lost Creek, the owner of the BP, says inches of muck cake his parking lot daily.
"The customers are not going to walk through all of this," Campbell said. "It has hurt my business. I just don't see why they can't blacktop the haul road. Other places do."
Campbell says he tried unsuccessfully to talk to Frasure Creek officials about the problems. He says he has also complained to the state Department of Transportation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the federal Office of Surface Mining and others.
"Nobody found anything to be in violation until we went to the grand jury," Campbell said.
Glenda Martin of Lost Creek says she has lost control of her vehicle before in the slippery conditions, and the indictment may be the last shot to fix the problem.
"We don't want money from the coal company," Martin said. "We don't want them to stop mining. We just want our road fixed."
Reach Cassondra Kirby in the Hazard bureau at (606) 487-8785.