Sunday, May 27, 2001

Contractor cited for strip mining

State says firm delayed roadwork to dig for coal

The Associated Press

        PIKEVILLE — The state has cited eastern Kentucky's second-largest road contractor for strip mining without a permit while work on a new road to the Pike County Airport was delayed.

        The state Department for Surface Mining issued a notice of non-compliance order Thursday to Elmo Greer and Sons Inc. of London. Transportation Cabinet officials rebuked the company in writing seven months earlier for stopping to mine coal in a nearby waste area.

        “We should have communicated with our sister agency,” state Highway Engineer J.M. “Mac” Yowell said. “We concentrated more on our road. We failed in our responsibility there.”

        State surface-mining Deputy Commissioner Allen Luttrell did not apologize Friday for the delayed enforcement. “Once we found out about it, we issued a non-compliance,” he said.

        Greer received at least $800,000 worth of free coal — legally — while building the new road under a state law that gives highway contractors any coal uncovered in the rights of way of new roads.

        But highway officials say the company delayed the $19 million project for at least a month, from Sept. 14 to Oct. 18, while it dug additional coal from a waste site off the project's right of way without a permit.

        The citation issued Thursday noted that “the coal has already been mined (and) the area has been back filled.” The agency ordered Greer to submit a preliminary mining application immediately for the disturbed waste area.

        Natural Resources Cabinet spokesman Mark York said Greer faces possible penalties after the applications are completed.

        Highway officials said they expect the 2.7-mile road to be completed by “the end of the paving season,” which is Nov. 15.

        Tom Caudel, project manager for Greer, could not be reached for comment. Earlier, Mr. Caudel denied that his company was coal mining instead of road building. He said Greer mined the area to prepare a waste-disposal site for road-building debris.

        Mr. Caudel said Greer paid all appropriate taxes on coal sales, but tax records are private. Courthouse records show Greer paid three sets of property owners a total of $304,000 to purchase the waste area. “We didn't make enough to cover the cost of the excavation,” Mr. Caudel said.

        Mr. Yowell, the state highway engineer, said there has been a general urgency to complete the new road, which will replace Cowpen Branch Road, a narrow, wind ing route to the airport that he calls “one of the dad-blamedest roads we've got.”

        Mr. Yowell said officials were concerned last year when work ground to a halt while Greer removed the coal from the waste area.

        In an Oct. 16 letter, Charles Childers, resident engineer in the Pikeville highway district office, told Greer that, in checking complaints about waste water being released into Cowpen Creek below the airport, the state found it was coming “from the coal mining operation on the property you bought for the waste area.”


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