Oxford Mining Co. has proposed a coal mine in Trimble Township in Athens County, and some local environmentalists and area residents are concerned about the impacts it could have on the local water, wildlife and surrounding area.
The total proposed permit area for the project is about 300 acres, located off Johnson Run Road near Glouster in northern Athens County (bordering Perry County), not far from the Trimble State Wildlife Area. The proposal calls for a five-year mining plan.
According to documentation of Oxford Mining’s compensatory mitigation plan, the Coshocton-based coal company is estimating 57.2 acres of proposed “surface impacts” through surface mining; the rest of the site (the total area proposed for mining is 299.3 acres) would be highwall or augur mined (mining techniques that burrow into the vertical walls of a previously excavated open-pit or strip mine).
“The balance of the proposed permit will be affected by highwall mining, which does not involve surface impacts,” according to that document. “Generally, an average of 11.5 acres will be surface mined and 51.0 acres will be highwall mined each year. Reclamation (rough grading – including stream and wetland reconstruction) will follow behind mining when there is no longer a need to disturb an area.”
Currently, Oxford has a permit application pending with the ODNR’s Division of Mineral Resources Management and a water-quality certification request pending with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
Athens area environmentalists and some property owners in the area of Johnson Run Road expressed concerns during a hearing for that water quality certification request last Thursday at Trimble High School in Glouster. Ohio EPA spokesperson Michael Settles said that those who attended the meeting expressed concerns about the impact that the proposed mine could have on water quality in the area, both for nearby waterways and the area’s water table.
According to Oxford’s water-quality certification request, the waterways will be affected by “mine through” and “fill” activities, and the total proposed impact is about 2.53 acres of wetlands and about 0.29 acres of waterway. However, also according to that document, Oxford will be required to replace those streams at a one-to-one ratio at their “approximate location” during the remediation process, and to replace the wetland at a 1.5:1 ratio.
Loraine McCosker, an Athens resident and member of the Ohio Sierra Club who attended the meeting, said the coal mine’s water quality certification request should be denied by the Ohio EPA, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources should deny the coal mining permit.
“SE Ohio is haunted by the legacy of coal mining from the past two centuries,” McCosker said in a provided comment. “The boom-and-bust cycle of coal has left economically challenged communities and environmental challenges as acid-mine drainage, impacted landscapes and ecosystems. It is incomprehensible that another mine is proposed for Athens County in Sunday Creek Watershed.”
She maintained that the proposed water permit will impact streams, groundwater and 2.53 acres of wetlands “with questionable remediation outcomes.
“Community members in the Johnson Run area will be impacted by mining for five years during construction (trucks, blasting, noise, air pollution), and then will live daily with an altered landscape,” McKosker said.
According to Oxford’s water-quality certification request, the “continued successful operation” of the company will allow the company to “maintain” approximately 100 primary and secondary jobs in Ohio and will produce about 1.16 million tons of coal, although it’s not clear how many jobs will be created locally.
“The vast majority of this coal value will be directly invested in the local and state economies for salaries, fuel equipment, equipment maintenance, shipping and materials, including seed and vegetation purchased for reclamation of the site,” the document reads. “This coal value will secondarily be invested in local restaurants, gas stations, mechanic shops, hardware stores, grocery stores, car dealerships and housing.”
Michelle Shively, another concerned local resident, also attended the Ohio EPA meeting. Shively is watershed coordinator with the Sunday Creek Watershed group, a program of Rural Action that has worked for the last 20 years to preserve and restore waterways in that watershed after decades of pollution from active and now-abandoned coal mines (about 38 percent of that watershed area was deep-mined for coal in the last century-plus).
Shively said last week that Johnson Run, the nearest stream that would be impacted by the coal-mining operation, empties into the western branch of Sunday Creek. In total, she said, about $2.5 million in federal and other grant dollars have been put into remediating the western branch of Sunday Creek from the impacts of acid-mine drainage.
Even 12 years ago, Shively continued, waterways in that area were considered to be “severely impacted” by acid-mine drainage; now, after the Sunday Creek Watershed group’s work, the stream is considered healthy, she said, with low amounts of metals and increasing amounts of fish and other animals.
Shively said that she hopes Oxford Mining and the Ohio EPA take into account the huge amount of investment that already has gone into remediating the area’s waterways, and take as many precautions as possible to protect them.
“There’s a fair amount of concern over whether the site will actually be cleaned up (after mining),” she added.
Shively and McCosker also voiced concerns about the design of the project in terms of how it could increase the potential for flooding in the area.
The Ohio EPA’s Settles said that the agency still has a lot of information to parse through regarding Oxford’s water-quality certification request, and isn’t close to making a decision yet.
The deadline for comments on the water quality certification request is this Thursday; comments can be sent to the Ohio EPA at firstname.lastname@example.org, so long as people reference the following Ohio EPA ID: #165100.
TERRY HARVEY was another concerned resident who spoke up during the water-quality meeting. He owns about 500 acres of land near Johnson Run Road, on Oakdale Road, and voiced concerns about drainage from the coal-mine project running through his property.
Harvey said he’s “pro-coal” and is in favor of the project bringing jobs to the area, but also noted how clean the western branch of Sunday Creek has become in recent years. That branch of Sunday Creek traces Ohio Rt. 13 as one travels north on that road from Athens toward Glouster.
“I would consider it pretty clean because I see little clamshells in it,” Harvey said. “…I’ve caught fish over the past few years even in the stream, and see turtles all the time.”
Harvey said he hopes that Oxford reaches out to him to talk about how the project could impact him or his neighbors.
Viorel Popescu, assistant professor of conservation biology at Ohio University, was another water-quality meeting attendee. He said in an email that he finds it “absolutely appalling” that the mining company does not appear to have a “monitoring plan” for water quality and biological communities in the area of the coal mine before, during and after the project.
“From my experience working in this field, detecting changes in biological communities requires intensive sampling before, during, and after the impact,” Popescu said. “Gradual changes in water quality (e.g., sedimentation from runoff and increased traffic, pH and conductivity) can impact macro-invertebrate and fish communities, yet such impacts can easily go undetected.”
According to Oxford’s mitigation plans, Oxford is planning on monitoring the restored wetland after the project is finished on an annual basis for five years. The ODNR’s Division of Mineral Resource Management also indicates that it conducts quarterly inspections of inactive mine sites and reclaimed areas, for erosion and sedimentation as well as for stream quality.
The company also has proposed a “re-vegetation” plan to replant trees and plants removed from the area, and will remove certain invasive species when discovered.
Meanwhile, the company plans to soon begin haul road “modification and construction” to allow for appropriate road conditions to remove topsoil and coal away from the site.
Oxford Mining Company was the focus of a spirited mining debate in 2011-12, involving a proposed strip mine in northwest Athens County. A local landowners group mounted a strong effort to persuade the state to not award a permit for the strip mine on a 347-acre site on Joy Hollow Road on Bern Township. In 2012, the company withdrew the plan.