The Richmond Register

Local News

July 8, 2012

Washed away dreams

Floyd County man fears effects of surface mining

HUEYSVILLE —  

Ricky Handshoe has about given up. 
He dreamed of a house beside the small creek on land his family has owned for 200 years; he hoped his daughter would one day live in that house when she married and had children; he just wanted a quiet life in Floyd County. 
His dreams have been washed away by poisoned water.
He wants his daughter to move. Latessa Handshoe is considering marriage. Her dad doesn’t want her to have children where he believes the water is to blame for the highest rates of cancer and birth defects in America. When it rains, Handshoe sends “Tess” to sleep at her grandfather’s house because he’s afraid the mountain behind his house will come crashing down.
“You know how when you have a baby you sleep with one ear open?” Handshoe explains. “That’s what I do all the time now.”
The mountain has a reclaimed surface mine near its summit. In the past six months, what Handshoe describes as three seeps or blowouts appeared in the side of the mountain, spewing water — sometimes 20 gallons a minute. 
Steve Hohmann, commissioner of the state Department of Natural Resources, visited the site and acknowledges the seeps but said they do not show evidence of the violence associated with a blowout.
Conductivity tests on the water produce readings as high as 4,700, perhaps the highest ever taken in Kentucky. Aquatic life can’t survive when conductivity exceeds 500. At times the water has tested 100 times more acidic than rain water. 
Handshoe believes it’s coming from an abandoned underground mine, collapsing under pressure from surface mining above. The pressure forces water collected in the mine to spew out of the mountainside and cause landslides. Water sometimes flows from the mine opening — and it has killed all vegetation in its path. But, state inspectors say they aren’t sure the problem was caused by mining.

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