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Environmental groups say company mined without permits

Environmental groups say they have found another coal mining company that has disturbed Eastern Kentucky streams without getting federal permits.

In a letter to West Virginia-based Frasure Creek Mining Co., the Sierra Club and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth said the company illegally dumped dirt and rock into streams at mountaintop-removal mines in Floyd, Magoffin and Pike counties.

Gina Sorice, a spokeswoman for Frasure Creek, said the company realized a year ago that it didn't have the required permits and reported each case to either the Army Corps of Engineers office in Louisville or Huntington, W.Va.

The environmental groups found a similar case at a mine in Pike County two years ago.

In the current case, the groups said, state inspectors visited the mines in September and issued notices of non-compliance but took no enforcement action.

"This kind of behavior (by the mining company) not only affects the people who live near the mines," said Lane Boldman, who is mountaintop-removal mining chair for the Cumberland Chapter of the Sierra Club. "It affects everyone downstream."

The alleged illegal mining came to light after environmental groups heard a rumor about it, Boldman said. They obtained records of the Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement inspections and notices through the state Open Records Act.

Carol Labashosky, a spokeswoman for the Corps office in Louisville, said the company did report it was working in a stream in Pike County without a permit. The company was ordered to stop, and that case has been turned over to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, she said.

She said her office had no records of permit applications for filling streams at the Magoffin or Floyd county mines.

Sorice said the mistakes at those mines were reported to Huntington. Peter Morgan, a Sierra Club attorney, said his research showed that all three mine permits were being administered out of the Louisville office.

But even if Frasure Creek did report its mistake, that doesn't absolve it of guilt, he said.

"Our concern is there has been no enforcement action brought against them," Morgan said. "The Clean Water Act provides for penalties for every day of an ongoing violation."

Dick Brown, a spokesman for the state, said that inspectors had continued to check on the mines, and nothing had changed around the springs since September.

"The department has been diligent in inspecting each of the permits identified in the letter and will continue to routinely monitor them," he said.

In 2008, members of the two environmental groups were looking for a spot in Pike County where a company had applied for a permit to mine. They found that mining was already taking place.

Clintwood Elkhorn Mining, a subsidiary of TECO Energy, said it already had discovered its mistake and reported it to the Army Corps of Engineers. But a year later, the company paid $250,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the environmentalists.

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