Sunday, August 17, 2003

Limited mining beneath 400-year-old forest OK'd

By Liz Sidoti
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - After years of debating the environmental implications, the state gave a coal company permission Friday to mine beneath parts of a 400-year-old eastern Ohio forest that contains a large tract of old-growth timber.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources granted the Ohio Valley Coal Co.'s request to mine the 455-acre Dysart Woods, but said the company could not use a technique in an ancient section of the forest that would cause the land to settle.

The Alledonia-based company is allowed to mine only 14 acres of the old-growth section to create a corridor - between 400 and 600 feet beneath the surface - to allow for equipment to be moved and air to circulate underground.

The company also can't mine more than 140 acres of coal in areas next to the old-growth timber in Belmont County.

"The corridor has been designed with stability factors that are so high that there has never been a failure of the land," said Mike Sponsler, chief of the Division of Mineral Resources Management. "The additional support from the unmined blocks of coal adjacent to the corridor also will protect the trees and the woods."

The president and general manager of Ohio Valley Coal, John R. Forrelli, said the company expects to begin mining in the area in the near future.

"There is no question that Dysart Woods will be protected by our mining plans," Forrelli said.

The company has spent years battling environmentalists over the implications of mining beneath the forest. About 51 acres of the entire forest contains old-growth trees, essentially untouched for centuries.

Ohio University owns Dysart Woods, but the company has the mineral rights.

The Buckeye Forest Council did not return a phone message seeking comment on the permit approval.

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