“Wind farms are a very efficient and sound way to create energy. I don’t like strip-mining at all, but I am worried about jobs, and more jobs would be created with new underground mines and with the wind farm. Also, because of mining behind my house (on Kayford Mountain), we don’t have any more water flowing past our house in Dorothy unless there is a heavy rain, and if the mining comes in across the way then the river will be impacted even more from the new valley fills, and I will be surrounded by strip-mines on both sides...
Strip-mining has already destroyed the river in front of my home so that there aren't any fish living there any more, and the wildlife have no other place to go but down, and Coal River Mountain is the last place in the area for them to live, and for water to flow into the river from. The wind farm would be a better way to produce energy and create jobs, and would allow for my family and the wildlife to live here without further damage to our home, and to our sense of community.” – Karen Dillon, Dorothy, WV
The Plan for Mining Coal River Mountain
Marfork Coal Company, a subsidiary of Virginia-based Massey Energy, plans to strip-mine 6,450 acres (ten square miles) of Coal River Mountain across three permit areas. As of June, 2008, they had already received two of the three permits, and had yet to apply for the third. The names of the three permits are Bee Tree, Eagle II and Eagle III.
The mining is set to begin on the Bee Tree surface mine at the west end of the mountain – above Colcord and Dorothy, and alongside the Brushy Fork Impoundment - and move over the communities of Colcord, Horse Creek and Dry Creek toward the Eagle III permit area on the east end, ending above the communities of Rock Creek and Amaegle. The blasting will come within a half-mile of many of these communities, and will happen daily, up to two or three times per day. Based on information provided in the permit applications, the mining is expected to last for 17 years.
The total mining plan also includes the ‘construction’ of 18 valley fills, which will result in the burial of over nine miles of headwater streams and the contamination of many more from sediment and heavy metal runoff. Nearly the whole mountain is currently forested, and the loss of the absorptive capacity of the forest coupled with the loss of streams will places the communities below in danger of severe and rapid flooding every time there is a heavy rain.
This happened in 2001 when, after five days of heavy rain, the waters of the Clear Fork River rose to four or five feet above the river banks and flooded the towns of Dorothy and Colcord, damaging or destroying 150 homes and killing two people.
That flood event has been tied to the deforestation and mining on the Kayford Mountain MTR site across the river from Colcord and above the town of Dorothy. Unless it is stopped, the proposed mountaintop removal mining on Coal River Mountain will put these communities at risk of even greater flooding, and the lives of residents in further danger.
The Potential Impact of Mountaintop Removal on the Existing Wind Resources
The proposed mining will also eliminate nearly all of the potential for developing a wind farm on Coal River Mountain, thereby destroying any opportunity for economic diversification in the Coal River Valley.
At their presentation to the West Virginia Division of Energy, Gamesa Energy - an international wind developer - said that pre-mining wind construction requires digging only an 8 foot hole for each turbine, whereas constructing turbines on post-mine lands would require holes 30-40 feet deep, and that this change makes most projects "economically unfavorable," due to the higher cost of having to dig each hole deeper. Also, any reduction in ridge altitude from strip-mining will result in a diminishing of the wind resource (wind speeds in Appalachia are weaker at lower altitudes), which means a diminishing of the number of turbines and total energy production, and thus the loss of potential jobs and tax revenues.
WindLogics©, the same wind consulting firm that developed the wind map for Coal River Mountain, also analyzed the impact of MTR on the wind resource for nearby Cherry Pond Mountain, which is now being mined as part of the Edwight MTR mine. What they showed was that only four years of mining had reduced the wind potential by two wind classes, rendering the area unsuitable for wind development. So, the combination of a diminished wind resource and the breaking of the bedrock both work against the viability of a potential wind development project, like on Coal River Mountain.
Cherry Pond Mountain before mining
(Class 4 sites can be developed for wind power)
[Cherry Pond Mountain wind map and analysis conducted by WindLogics©]
Cherry Pond Mountain after four years of MTR
(Class 2 winds cannot be developed)
[Cherry Pond Mountain wind map and analysis conducted by WindLogics©]
The proposed mountaintop removal mines on Coal River Mountain, as currently planned, will impact over 60 percent of the available wind resource, including the areas with the highest wind speeds and therefore the greatest potential for producing clean, renewable energy. These areas are shown in red in the map below, and represent Class 5 and 6 wind speeds. The blue areas represent the valleys.
Coal River Mountain Wind Map with Turbine Locations and Permit Boundaries
As happens with most other large surface and mountaintop removal mines, it can be expected that Massey will apply for and obtain permits for mining the rest of the mountain and destroying the remaining wind resource. Overall, the benefits of leaving the mountain intact and building a wind farm could theoretically last forever, whereas the benefits from strip-mining Coal River Mountain will last for only 17 years.
Both the costs and consequences of mountaintop removal mining, and the benefits of developing a wind farm, could last forever. So, the question is, given the facts, which option is the better option for Raleigh County and West Virginia?
It has been shown that the proposed MTR operations would impose social and environmental costs on the local communities and surrounding environment - known as "externalities" - in the amount of $600 million over 34 years. That represents the economic cost of the forest loss, water pollution, flooding, health impacts and increased fatalities that would result from the proposed mining, to name a few.
After the flood of 2001, Mike Maynor of Dorothy, WV decided to raise his house up higher than it had been, in order to protect it from future flooding. "All this work that I’ve done, raising my house up 7 feet, is just false security. My neighbor said to me, ‘all that means, Mike, is that you’ll be the last one to drown.”
These are real costs, and they are not paid by either the coal company or the consumer of the electricity generated from the coal. They are paid by the land and the local residents. By comparison, the wind farm would result in near-zero external costs, while providing jobs, energy and tax revenue indefinitely.
That is the choice Coal River residents are fighting for on Coal River Mountain.
What Is Happening on the Mountain Right Now?
At the time this was written (March 8th, 2009), Marfork Coal Company, a subsidiary of Massey Energy, had received their mining permits for the Bee Tree and Eagle II surface mines. Until recently, they had been prevented from receiving their Clean Water Act permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, which would allow them to fill the valleys with mining waste so that they could get it out of the way of their mining operations.
In late 2008, they altered the Bee Tree permit so that they could use the waste rock to "reclaim" an old mining highwall bench that sits along the Brushy Fork Sludge Impoundment, rather than putting it into a stream. This permit alteration allows Marfork Coal Co. to proceed with their mining operations on the Bee Tree permit.
At the last check-in on the mining site, Marfork had cleared a 100 foot swath of forest below the ridge, burning the trees in the process, in order to construct the first mining road related to the Mountaintop Removal mining of Coal River Mountain. They had also cleared a small road up to the ridge, but had not yet cleared the ridge of its timber. As of April, 2009 Massey had removed their machinery from the site, perhaps due to the crash in the coal market associated with the economic recession.
Due to the lack of a willingness on the part of state and county officials to intervene and protect the mountain for developing the proposed wind farm, local residents and supportive activists have taken it upon themselves to try and halt the mining and bring awareness to the threat of MTR on Coal River Mountain.
To stay updated on the status of the mountain and the Coal River Mountain Wind campaign, visit www.coalriverwind.org
and check out the Blog page. If you decide that a wind farm is the better option for developing Coal River Mountain, you can visit the "Activist Resources"
page to learn how to help prevent Massey from doing anything further to destroy Coal River Mountain.