Help mountain towns fight against mine, for clean water

June 30, 2014 

Residents of Lynch are concerned that proposed state mine permitting rules would allow strip mining that would hurt the town's water supply. This June 19 view of Main Street looks toward Black Mountain, Kentucky's highest peak.

Residents of Lynch are concerned that proposed state mine permitting rules would allow strip mining that would hurt the town's water supply. This June 19 view of Main Street looks toward Black Mountain, Kentucky's highest peak.

CHARLES BERTRAM | STAFF — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

  • At issue: June 22 Herald-Leader article, "State crafts mine rules to appease EPA; Environmentalists want more protection for waterways"

The Kentucky Division of Water is proposing a new five-year General Pollution Discharge Elimination System Permit for coal mining under section 402 of the Clean Water Act.

My main concern and reason for attending the public hearing on the proposed permit is that it rolls back many protections for our drinking water streams, creeks and rivers.

Many of these changes will directly affect the towns of Lynch and Benham here in Harlan County, and also other areas downstream that may use the water from Looney Creek. It runs off Black Mountain and into the Cumberland River and eventually ends up dumping into the Gulf of Mexico.

Anyone who has ever had the pleasure to visit our area in southeastern Kentucky and traveled to the top of Black Mountain and looked over into Inman, Va., can see why I'm so concerned.

The A&G Coal Company, owned by James Justice of West Va., has turned the once mountain ridge from the Kentucky border toward Inman into an ugly, barren and jagged moonscape that makes you want to cry when you see it.

Justice intends to continue his destruction by cutting a gap into Black Mountain and rape the Looney Ridge of Black Mountain, which is located above Benham and Lynch. Thus far, Justice and A&G are not allowed to be covered by the 2009 general permit because they were going to discharge within five miles upstream of a public drinking water intake.

Therefore Justice was forced to apply for an individual permit, which is why the mountaintop removal of Looney Ridge has never started. Justice and the A&G are not a very safe operating company, by any means.

During the destruction of the Inman ridge around the small community of Inman, the company blasted a large rock that eventually rolled off the surface mine bench area and through the roof of a house, killing a toddler as he slept in his bed.

A&G was later fined $15,000, but Justice fought tooth and nail to keep from paying the fine.

Sadly under the proposed 2014 general permit, A&G would be able to re-apply and literally have a carte blanche permit to mine and dump as Justice pleases.

I fear for our own Looney Ridge, our drinking water streams, creeks and rivers. But this will be the same situation for all streams, creeks and rivers throughout Kentucky.

I would ask anyone who is concerned about keeping our precious drinking water and our mountains to please submit your own comments.

Submit until July 1 to the Division of Water, 200 Fair Oaks Lane, Frankfort, Ky. 40601 or by email to DOWPublicNotice@ky.gov.

Stanley Sturgill of Lynch is a former underground miner and federal mine inspector.

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