September 11, 2008

No Blasting at Massey Site Yet, DEP Says

By Ken Ward Jr.

Massey Energy has not yet begun blasting apart a Raleigh County mountain that environmental groups hope to preserve for a wind- power project, state officials said Wednesday.

Department of Environmental Protection officials said that any blasting at Massey's Bee Tree Surface Mine would not be allowed until the company obtains the rest of the required permit approvals. DEP inspectors visited the site Wednesday to confirm that blasting did not start, as environmental groups had feared that it might.

"They haven't done anything with regard to that permit," said Grant Connard, an inspector supervisor at DEP's Oak Hill regional office. "There's not been any disturbance on that permit."

Citizen groups are promoting construction of 220 2-megawatt wind turbines on Coal River Mountain ridges. A wind study, funded by North Carolina-based Appalachian Voices, concluded that the spot is a good location for a wind farm. The project, Whitesville-based Coal River Mountain Watch says, would create enough wind power to "keep the lights on" in 150,000 homes, "while preserving the mountain for future economic and community benefits."

But Richmond, Va.-based Massey holds two strip mine permits in the area, and is seeking two more, for a total mine area of more than 6,000 acres.

On Aug. 29, Massey published a legal notice announcing that it planned to begin blasting on Wednesday morning.

Environmental groups timed a public relations blitz - including e- mail alerts, op-ed pieces to newspapers, and calls to reporters around the country - to generate publicity the day before Wednesday's possible start of blasting. The groups urged Gov. Joe Manchin to intervene, and Manchin declined, with his spokeswoman saying the company already had all of the required permits.

But it turned out that Massey is missing several key permit approvals from DEP, and agency officials confirmed late Tuesday that any blasting would be considered illegal until those approvals are made. Massey did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at [email protected] or 348-1702.

Originally published by Staff writer.

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