Athens County Common Pleas Judge George McCarthy on Monday issued a ruling affirming the Athens County Commissioners’ decision to deny a coal-mining company’s two applications for road permits.
While Oxford Coal Mining Company, LLC, can appeal the decision, this represents the latest blow to the company that is attempting to open a surface/high-wall coal mine in northern Athens County, not far from Glouster. The company initially had been granted a waiver to work within 100 feet of Johnson Run Road in 2016, but the county Commissioners rescinded that waiver because of a public notice issued by the company that did not match plans submitted by the company, The NEWS previously reported.
The company filed a complaint against the Commissioners in Common Pleas Court appealing that decision last fall, and also sought a new road waiver from the Commissioners. That second road waiver was unanimously denied by the Commissioners on Dec. 5.
McCarthy in his ruling cited flaws in Oxford’s two public notices related to the company’s two attempts to obtain a road permit to allow mining in close proximity to Johnson Run Road, although he said his reasoning for that conclusion “differs” from the Commissioners’ reasoning.
McCarthy explained that Ohio Administrative Code requires that such public notices must include a description of how the proposed mining operation will affect the road; Oxford’s first notice did not mention that subject, McCarthy wrote.
“But Oxford argues that the record demonstrates its proposed mining will have no affect (sic) on the road, so it was not required to mention the subject in its notice,” McCarthy wrote. “The Board (Commissioners) argues that Oxford’s notice was at least required to address the subject by stating the mining would have no affect (sic) on the road. The Court need not resolve this difference of opinion. Rather, the Court finds as a matter of law that the record unambiguously shows Oxford’s proposed mining would affect the road within the meaning of OAC… and that neither of Oxford’s notices addressed the subject.
“Accordingly, both notices were faulty, justifying the denial of the requested permits…”
The NEWS previously reported that Oxford’s permit application to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources notes that the road will need to be closed to all but local traffic and emergency vehicles for a period of several years while the mining is under way; McCarthy notes that Oxford said as much in its first application for the road waiver. As such, that proposed posted closure, despite its “temporary nature,” counts as something that would “affect the road,” McCarthy wrote.
“This was not just a minor flaw,” McCarthy added. “Several attendees of the Dec. 5, 2017 Board (Commissioners) meeting were concerned about the road-closure issue. The Court can only speculate regarding how many, if any, other persons, perhaps with standing to appeal any adverse decision, would have attended and spoken to the issue had the public notice mentioned this significant affect (sic) on the road.”
Roxanne Groff, a vocal opponent of the mining plan and a former Athens County Commissioner, applauded Judge McCarthy’s ruling. “It appears that (the judge), interpreting the Ohio Administrative Code, determined why would you close the road and limit traffic if you weren’t going to affect it?”
Oxford has received a draft wastewater discharge permit from the Ohio EPA, but has not yet received full approval from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for the mine itself.