Judge asked to block Boone mine permit
By Ken Ward Jr .Staff writer
A federal judge was urged Monday to block a coal company proposal that would bury more than a mile of Boone County streams.The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition asked for a temporary restraining order to stop a new valley fill at Jupiter Holdings’ Callisto Surface Mine near Bob White.U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers in Huntington did not immediately rule or schedule a hearing on the request.Jupiter Holdings is part of Magnum Coal, and its Callisto operation would cover nearly 1,200 acres, according to state Department of Environmental Protection records.One of the environmental coalition’s leading activists, Maria Gunnoe, lives in Bob White. Her home is “located just downstream” from a valley fill that is already under construction at the Callisto mine, according to a court filing.“The fill is at the mouth of Big Branch, a tributary of Pond Fork of the Little Coal River,” the court filing stated.“Since that fill was started, she has been reluctant to use her land for farming because of stream pollution,” the court papers said. “She has also been extremely upset by the change in stream flow. The valley fill has made the stream flow unpredictable and she has, for the first time in 40 years, been severely flooded.“She is also very concerned that as the mining progresses, Pond Fork will flood and become more polluted and her use of her property and downstream stretches of Pond Fork will be impacted,” the court filing stated.Environmental group lawyers Joe Lovett and Jim Hecker cited Chambers’ March ruling that the federal Army Corps of Engineers officials had not fully evaluated potential environmental damage before approving four other strip mining permits.Chambers had noted an “alarming cumulative stream loss” to valley fills, and said that the corps “does not explain how the cumulative destruction of headwater streams already affected by mining in these watersheds will not contribute to an adverse impact on aquatic resources.”The judge later allowed Massey Energy to continue to dump waste rock and dirt into streams at three of those mines, because the company had already started operations there.After Chambers’ ruling, environmental group lawyers added the Corps’ permit for the Callisto mine to its existing lawsuit.Monday’s court filing said that lawyers previously told the judge the mine would not begin further valley fills until after an appeal of Chambers’ ruling was resolved by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.But last week company lawyer Richard Verheij told environmental groups that they planned to move forward sooner on at least one valley fill.Verheij told environmental group lawyers the company would confine its work to one valley fill in Dry Branch, and that doing so would “keep folks employed for the next 18 months,” according to a court filing. The fill in question would bury 2,435 feet of Dry Branch, court records show.In all, the Callisto Mine proposes four valley fills that would bury 5,750 feet of streams in tributaries of Roach Branch, Dry Branch and Lem White Branch, court records show.