Thunder Ridge mine suit settled

Two environmental groups have settled a federal lawsuit that they had brought against International Coal Group's Thunder Ridge Surface Mine in Leslie County.

The settlement with the Kentucky Waterways Alliance and Sierra Club allows the coal company to build a fourth and final valley fill at the mountaintop-removal mine. It originally had planned on five such fills.

The company agreed to plant hardwood trees on 150 acres of mined land, placing more trees per acre than normally would be required, and breaking up the surface to increase the trees' chances of survival.

The company also will contribute $50,000 to the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Foundation to pay for stream restoration in the Middle Fork of the Kentucky River.

In an earlier partial settlement, the company had agreed to convert post-mining plans of 1,830 acres from pasture to wildlife habitat, and to plant one-third of that in trees.

ICG president and chief executive Ben Hatfield said the company is pleased to settle questions about its Clean Water Act permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.

"We look forward to continue working with the Corps to improve the process for reviewing and approving permit applications for both surface and deep mining in a timely manner," he said.

The environmental groups also were pleased.

"While we are disappointed we were not able to stop this last valley fill on-site, overall we believe we lessened the environmental impact of this permit addition by enhancing the reforestation, reducing the number of new valley fill from five down to four and by the funding of additional stream improvements," said Judith Petersen of the waterways group.