By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
The Cabinet for Energy and Environment is touting the “outstanding mining and reclamation activity” by a coal company that it fined $11,000 for pollution discharges in July and which it continues to investigate for potential pollution at another site in a nearby county.
On Tuesday in Prestonsburg, the cabinet will present Laurel Mountain Resources, a subsidiary of James River Coal, an award for the company’s reclamation of a site near Tomahawk in Martin County.
According to a press release by the cabinet, several LMR and cabinet representatives will be on hand, including Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Steve Hohmann and Brian Patton of LMR.
Last July, the cabinet fined LMR $11,000 for failure to report pollutant discharges into Raccoon Creek from another reclaimed mine site in Floyd County.
The creek is on property owned by Ricky Handshoe and no longer supports aquatic life.
Meanwhile, the state and the federal Office of Surface Mining continue to monitor water flowing from seeps on a mountain just below another LMR reclaimed mine site on another part of Handshoe’s property.
Last July, CNHI published a story about Handshoe’s problems with polluted water and his frustrations in seeking help from the cabinet just days before the cabinet levied the $11,000 fine.
The story reported that testing by the environmental group Appalachian Voices indicated water flowing from the seeps above Handshoe’s home contained 100 times more aluminum than fresh water; 44 times as much iron; and manganese, which can cause developmental defects and Parkinson’s disease, at 129 times fresh-water standards.
Hohmann, the DNR commissioner, said then that state inspectors couldn’t conclusively determine the seeps and the polluted water result from mining and reclamation by LMR at the site higher on the mountain, above the seeps. Six months later, that investigation continues with help of the federal OSM.
Handshoe’s family doctor instructed him not to eat anything from his vegetable garden or any animal which may have consumed water on his property. Handshoe is also undergoing medical evaluations to determine if there are unusual levels of heavy metals in his system.
“I think it’s kind of a shame the state is giving this bunch (LMR) an award,” Handshoe said Friday when informed of the award.
Hohmann said Friday the problems on Handshoe’s property do not affect the state’s decision to recognize LMR for good work in Martin County.
“The site receiving the award is located in Martin County, not connected to the Floyd County problems, and stands on its own for its exemplary reclamation,” Hohmann said in an email. “Problems on other permits do not detract from that accomplishment. The problems at Handshoe’s (property) are under investigation and are not yet attributable to Laurel Mountain.”
Handshoe said he believes the state has issued additional violations against the company on LMR’s Floyd County sites since the company was fined in July.
He continues to worry about his health. His fingernails have begun showing cracks and discolored lines, symptoms sometimes attributed to arsenic contamination, although Handshoe’s drinking and bathing water comes from a municipal water service.
He is careful to stay out of the polluted streams on his property, but water from one of them sometimes overflows and runs beneath his house.
He’s even thinking of moving temporarily — to see if the problem clears up once he’s away from the pollution on his property.
CNHI contacted Laurel Mountain and James River Coal seeking comment. A woman who answered the phone at the Prestonsburg office said she’d have a company official call back, but as of press time no one had called.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.