The Richmond Register

July 8, 2012

State official: ‘We’re not taking this lightly’

By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service

FRANKFORT —  

Kentucky’s commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources says the state is serious about investigating water problems at Rick Handshoe’s home in Floyd County, problems Handshoe believes result from mining.
Len Peters, the secretary of the Energy and Environment Cabinet which oversees DNR, the Division of Water and the Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement, also said the state takes Handshoe’s problems seriously.
DNR Commissioner Steve Hohmann said he personally visited the mountain behind Handshoe’s house and his investigators have been there at least nine times.
“We’re not taking this lightly,” Hohmann said. “We’re investigating the problem actively and aggressively.”
Handshoe thinks he’s in danger from toxic water running from an abandoned mine site above his home and fears it will create a landslide which would threaten his house and life.
Hohmann understands Handshoe’s fears but says the law requires him to produce hard evidence before he cites the company.
“We want to get the right answer and not just get an answer right away,” Hohmann said. “If we cite a company, we have to do it based on evidence that will stand up to a legal challenge.”
Peters said such seepages as those on Handshoe’s property sometimes occur naturally and the cabinet is “still trying to determine if those are caused by mining or not.”
Concerning earlier, continuing problems on Raccoon Creek on another part of Handshoe’s property, Peters said some of the contamination may be from old underground mines abandoned before the Clean Water Act was passed. 
State inspectors “have been up there well over a dozen times,” Peters said. “They are looking at it, trying to analyze it.”
During a recent public hearing by the federal Environmental Protec-tion Agency, Peters challenged EPA’s holding up 36 mining permits in Kentucky and said: “Environmental permitting is not designed to stop legitimate business activities.”
Peters said the settlement pond on Raccoon Creek is legitimate so long as it adheres to requirements of its mining and water discharge permits.
“Permits are designed to make sure that mining or any industrial application is done in an appropriate manner,” Peters said. “As long as the permittee is doing their activities according to their permit and what is required, we feel that those are legitimate legal activities.”
Handshoe contends the discharges into Raccoon Creek are clear violations of those permits and the Clean Water Act.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ cnhifrankfort.