Tuesday, October 24, 2000

Company pledges to clean up sludge


Cost no object, president says

By Roger Alford
The Associated Press

        INEZ, Ky. — A huge black crater is all that remains on the mountaintop where a coal-mine pond gave way nearly two weeks ago, sending a wave of sludge down steep slopes into streams.

        Dump trucks and bulldozers have since plugged the hole in the pond where 210 million gallons of coal waste escaped like water from a bathtub.

        Martin County Coal Corp. opened the site to reporters Monday, allowing the first close-up look at ground zero of what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is calling one of the worst environmental disasters ever in the Southeast.

        After a bus tour along miles of bumpy mountain roads, the president of the coal company gave his first press conference, vowing to clean the mess regardless of the cost.

        “We're trying to relieve the misery and get residents' lives back to normal as quickly as possible,” said Dennis Hatfield.

        The sludge leaked from the bottom of the pond into a mine, sending torrents of black water and coal debris through the mine shafts.

        Mr. Hatfield said the hole created a large vortex in the pond, like what forms in a bathtub when the drain is unplugged.

        Tom Meikle, director of surface mining for Massey Coal Services in Charleston, W.Va., said he expects sludge levels to fall enough in the next two to three days that residents will no longer have to travel across the mountain to get to Inez.

        Mr. Hatfield said the company, a subsidiary of A.T. Massey, hadn't stopped to count up the cost or to consider legal ramifications of the spill.

        “We will deal with those later,” he said.

        Martin County Judge-executive Lon Lafferty said some people are questioning whether the coal company can survive the financial burden of the cleanup, which, he said, will run into millions of dollars and take at least five months.

        Mr. Hatfield said the company has been too busy dealing with the cleanup to consider the financial consequences.

       



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