Lawsuits say Harts surface mine contaminating well water

HAMLIN - A surface mining operation near Harts for Argus Energy is accused of violating several state laws in a six-count complaint demanding jury trial in Lincoln Circuit Court.

Eight plaintiffs are listed in cases filed Oct. 1 by Charleston Attorneys Marvin W. Masters, April D. Ferrebee and Trent A. Redman.

Garry and Teresa Browning; Earl and Beverly Riffe; Jessica Riffe, Individually and as Mother and Next of Friend of Megan Riffe; Gary and Betty Flemmings; Joseph Carter; Russell Walls Sr.; Alline Burns, as Mother and Next Friend of Jenna and Brandon Beckett; and Claudia Lowe, Individually and as Mother and Next Friend of Isabella Lowe, are plaintiffs described as owners, residents or occupants "of properties and/or homes in or near… streams of the Pigeon Creek Watershed, and vicinity being part of the Tug River/Big Sandy drainage basin…"

The suits say Argus contracted with other defendants to manage and operate the mine, set off explosives at or near the plaintiffs’ properties, survey property lines, operate the preparation plant and travel over public and private roadways to service the mine and plant.

Defendants also named include Kenton Kelly of Kermit, Dewey Maynard of Dunlow, Mark Barton of Scott Depot, Anthony Beckett of Genoa, Glen Messer of Kermit, J.T. Spaulding of Dunlow and Kiah Creek Transport, LLC.

Explosives wrongfully set off in and around plaintiffs' properties, the suits contend, caused severe damages and contaminated well water with dangerous chemicals.

The complaints say, among other things, the way the preparation plant is operated does not "prevent discharge of silt, dangerous chemicals, and debris" that build up in creeks and tributaries in the vicinity.

"Injured plaintiffs," the complaints say, include non-property owners "who lived, resided or occupied property where defendants' acts and conduct caused damage to water and the environment, personal injury, noise, fear, pain and suffering and emotional distress."

The complaints continue, "Defendants, through the acts and/or omissions of its agents and/or employees have violated in the past, and continue to violate, portions of West Virginia's Surface Coal Mining & Reclamation Act (WVSCMRA) and its implementing regulations without excuse..."

Jury judgment is demanded, jointly and severally, for compensatory and punitive damages, pre- and post-judgment interest, injunctive relief, litigation costs, and any further relief deemed just and proper. Judge Jay M. Hoke is expected to preside at a trial projected for next September.

Lincoln Circuit Court case numbers: 12-C-113 through 12-C-120

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