The Richmond Register

August 12, 2012

State finds Floyd County water pollution worse than feared

By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service

FRANKFORT — Kentucky Division of Water inspectors say water discharging from a Floyd County mountainside below a reclaimed surface mine “is creating an environmental and safety hazard for the residents who live in close proximity to the site.”

The report by DOW investigators David Jackson and Chad von Gruenigan follows a visit to the property of Rick Handshoe in Hueysville, who fears for his and his daughter’s safety. During the May 16 visit, the investigators collected water samples which produced even higher pollutant levels than those previously recorded by an environmental group.

As CNHI News previously reported, Handshoe’s residence is surrounded by surface mining sites and seeps and landslides have appeared on the mountainside behind his home and below an abandoned underground mine located beneath a partially reclaimed surface mine. Water is also discharging from the abandoned mine opening and contaminating a small creek which runs off the mountain and beside Handshoe’s property.

That unnamed creek drains into Raccoon Creek on another part of Handshoe’s property which is already polluted from yet another mine site. Just last month, the Energy and Environment Cabinet fined Laurel Mountain Resources $11,000 for pollution discharges from a sediment pond into Raccoon Creek.

Cabinet Secretary Len Peters and other cabinet officials have said they are so far unable to determine the cause of the seeps and pollution discharging into the second creek. Peters said such seeps can occur naturally and the pollution may be caused by something other than the surface mining operations above the old, abandoned mine.

The cabinet has asked the federal Office of Surface Mining to assist in determining the cause of the pollution. OSM has visited the site but has not yet produced a report of its findings.

But the DOW report filed by Jackson and Chad von Gruenigan states in a section on recommendations and conclusions that, “pre and post mining activities are the likely source and contributing factors to the poor water quality discharging from these locations.”

The report goes on to say the discharges are “creating an environmental and safety hazard for the residents who live in close proximity to the site” and recommends “that the discharge of acid mine drainage to the waters of the commonwealth cease immediately.”

Handshoe, however, said nothing has changed. He and the state continue to await the OSM report, but the confirmation of the danger posed by the seeps just adds to Handshoe’s fears.

“It’s kind of scary where it says residents living in close proximity to this stream are in an environmental and safety hazard,” Handshoe said.

Like samples previously taken by an environmental group, Appalachian Voices, the DOW samples indicated high levels of iron, aluminum, and other metals and pH levels so low the water can’t support aquatic life. The DOW investigators measured c=Conductivity — a measurement of suspended solids which is used to evaluate aquatic life — at levels above 4,300. The federal Environmental Protection Agency considers conductivity levels above 500 detrimental to aquatic life.

According to the narrative section of the report, acid mine drainage was flowing from the abandoned mine on the day of the inspection at a rate of nearly 13,000 gallons a day.

“The report kind of speaks for itself as far as what kind of danger me and my daughter are in,” Handshoe said. “My main concern is my daughter who sleeps 15 feet from this stream. But the more I learn, the more scared I am.”

Handshoe said he can’t afford to move but has considered moving his daughter to live with relatives in Bowling Green.

For now, he waits for the OSM report and hopes it’ll provide some sort of hope or relief.

“There ought to be some sort of enforcement arm to stop this,” Handshoe said.

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.