Wednesday, December 20, 2000

State wary of sludge cleanup plan

Coal company's work would slow in winter

The Associated Press

        LEXINGTON — State regulators are objecting to a coal company's plans to alter its wintertime cleanup of a coal-waste spill that fouled waterways in eastern Kentucky.

        Bruce Williams, deputy secretary of the state Natural Resources and Environmental Cabinet, said the cold-weather operations plan by Martin County Coal Corp. was unacceptable.

        “The Cabinet does not find that the work performed to this point is sufficient to abate violations” of Kentucky law, he said in a letter to federal and state agencies overseeing the cleanup.

        Martin County Coal has been working since the Oct. 11 spill to clean up the waste in and along Coldwater Fork and Wolf Creek.

        The company owns the 72-acre coal-slurry impoundment near Inez that failed. An estimated 250 million gallons of water and slurry gushed through mine shafts below the impoundment and into waterways, in what officials say is the nation's worst black-water spill.

        In a plan it wanted to put in place from Dec. 11 through March, the company said it would discontinue diverting water at the two creeks by this Friday. It said the pumping equipment would be demobilized by Jan. 1.

        Martin County Coal also said removal of all heavy slurry from the creeks would be done by Friday.

        The company said it planned to continue other cleanup as weather permitted, including pumping slurry from behind temporary dams and washing down creek banks.

        Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, said he's concerned that if regulators allow the company to discontinue some operations for the winter, the cleanup might not resume in the spring.

        “The equipment ought to stay there until it's done,” Mr. FitzGerald told the Lexington Herald-Leader.

        He said it is rarely cold enough in Kentucky to prevent cleanup. The job needs to go forward as quickly as possible to prevent flooding and further contamination, he said.

        Bill Marcum, spokesman for Martin County Coal, said the company intended to stop operations only in areas that might raise concerns about public safety in the winter, such as having trucks on slick roads.

        Mr. Marcum noted that the draft plan included continued cleanup work in some areas.

        “We never intended to stop work,” he told the Lexington newspaper.

        The Environmental Protection Agency has final say on approving any cleanup plan.


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