Environmental groups sue property owner of former mine sites

By John O'Brien | Nov 22, 2013

CHARLESTON – Three environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against Fund 8 Domestic, the owner of two parcels of land in Mingo County that are allegedly polluting the water.

West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and Sierra Club filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in Charleston on Nov. 12.

It alleges Fund 8 is discharging selenium from at least two valley fills left behind at two now-defunct mountaintop removal coal mining sites.

"It's like a game of musical chairs," said Jim Sconyers, chair of Sierra Club's West Virginia chapter.

"When the mining stops, somebody is left holding the bag. Like it or not, Fund 8 owns the valley fills, and they own the pollution they're putting into our waters, and they own the responsibility to keep our streams clean."

The complaint says the two fills are discharging selenium into the tributary system of the Tug Fork, a tributary of the Big Sandy River.

“Plaintiffs’ members suffer injuries to their aesthetic, recreational, environmental and/or economic interests as a result of Defendant’s unlawful discharges of pollutants,” the complaint says.

“Plaintiffs’ members fish, swim, observe wildlife, and/or otherwise use the waters affected by Defendant’s discharges and are harmed by the pollutants that Defendant is discharging.

“Plaintiffs’ members refrain from swimming, wading, fishing, and/or engaging in other activities in and around the streams affected by Defendant’s discharges to avoid exposure to pollutants.”

During mountaintop removal mining, valleys are filled in with the excess rock from the top of the mine.

One of the mines at issue is the Opportunity No. 3 Surface Mine, which received a permit in 1979 and filled in Valley Fill No. 2 in Ashcamp Hollow in 1996. Two sediment ponds were constructed upstream and downstream from the fill, the complaint says.

The other mine is the Anchor Surface Mine No. 1. Its fill was completed by 1991 and was constructed with two drains to the stream channel at the base of it, the complaint says.

The Opportunity tract of land is 1,146 acres, while the Anchor tract of land is 856 acres.

Water samples show selenium concentrations, the complaint alleges.

The plaintiffs are represented by Amy Vernon-Jones and Joseph M. Lovett of Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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