More than 50 area residents attended an Ohio Department of Natural Resources public meeting Monday evening about a proposed coal-mine project in northern Athens County near Glouster.
Every community member who offered an opinion at the meeting, with one exception, voiced opposition to the coal mine, with a number of local activists and environmental group representatives citing issues with the coal-mine application (pending with the ODNR’s Division of Mineral Resources Management). Some residents simply came with questions about the process, however, and did not offer an opinion for or against the mine.
The total proposed permit area for the project is about 300 acres, located off Johnson Run Road not far from the Trimble State Wildlife Area. Oxford Mining Co. of Coshocton’s proposal calls for a five-year mining plan.
According to Oxford Mining’s compensatory mitigation plan, the coal company estimates 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).
Oxford’s water-quality certification request states that the mine would produce 1.16 million tons of coal, valued between $46 million and $52 million; $1.3 million in tax revenue; and would “support” and help the company retain 100 jobs in Ohio (it does not explain whether new jobs would be created in the local area).
The mine proposes to affect about 2.53 acres of wetlands and about 0.29 acres of waterway. However, 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.
Brent Heavilin, permitting manager with the Division of Mineral Resources Management, briefly explained the proposed impacts of the project before taking questions and public comments.
Roxanne Groff, a local environmental activist and trustee of Bern Township, argued that Oxford’s permit application is “woefully inadequate.” She, along with others during the meeting, contended that the company had misrepresented the quality of the streams in the area, calling them “moderate to poor-quality,” by using data from 2005.
Michele Shively, Sunday Creek Watershed coordinator with Rural Action, said that more than $2.5 million has been invested into remediation of the western branch of the Sunday Creek watershed, which is fed by streams near the proposed coal mine. More recent estimates of the water quality in the area of the coal mine, she added, show that the streams are “high-quality.” She also said worries about the mining exacerbating flooding issues in the area, and questioned whether the sediment ponds to be built by the company will sufficiently prevent runoff into local waterways.
Harry Kallipolitis, manager of 401 Water Quality Certification with the Ohio EPA, said that Shively and Groff were “absolutely right” about their contention regarding Oxford’s use of old data.
“We had concerns with the data that was submitted and how old it was; we are asking them to pursue additional sampling to be protective of its existing use, which is not reflective of sampling that happened 12 years ago,” Kallipolitis said. “I have already asked for that from Oxford, and we stand ready to do the sampling ourselves.”
In general, many at the meeting expressed concerns about Oxford not working to restore the area sufficiently after the mining is done. Regulations are in place to punish companies that don’t adequately restore streams and land after mining. However, according to a letter the Ohio Sierra Club sent recently to the Ohio EPA regarding the company’s permit for waterway impacts, “public records indicate that Oxford owes the State of Ohio over $24 million for its ongoing mitigation failures at 16 separate mining sites.”
Others during the meeting expressed concerns about the impacts on local roadways with trucks hauling coal.
Heavilin noted that the roads will be closed to all but local traffic.
The Athens County Commissioners came under fire during the meeting for approving a waiver allowing Oxford Mining to mine within 100 feet of a county road, with some alleging that Oxford had not properly advertising that fact in its posted notices in local newspapers.
Commissioner Lenny Eliason said that the commissioners, when they meet in the near future, will consider rescinding that waiver upon reviewing record of their previous meeting with Oxford officials.
Ed Newman, a local resident, spoke on behalf of one family who lives on Johnson Run Road who had sold their mineral rights to the coal company.
“It’s not like they’re for it now; it’s just (the owner) is at the end of his life,” Newman said. “They’re just trying to get the best deal that they can for his family. They get royalties from those guys. But they’re still going to be looking at the destruction of their place. It’s going to be tearing a utopian valley into hell.”