By Rachel Dove
LAUREL LAKE - “If this mine blows out, you’re talking about Buffalo Creek times 100 … the loss of life would be unreal. From Laurel Lake all the way to Naugatuck would be a disaster area.”
These were the sentiments of Laurel Creek resident Arnold Hensley Jr. as he and several of his neighbors gathered Tuesday for a community meeting to speak with the Daily News concerning their fears that a mine that is no longer in operation has become a threat to the welfare and safety of area residents.
The site the Laurel Creek homeowners are referring to is the former Marrowbone Development Spruce Creek operations that has been closed for approximately 20 years. For the past few years, water has been seeping from a location near one of the fishing hot spots of Laurel Lake and, a couple of months ago, a large mud slide occurred in that same location that created travel problems for those driving in the area as it covered the entire road, carrying rocks, mud and trees over the bank of the lake itself.
“Water has always run out of the hillside in that location, we know to expect a certain amount of seepage, but what you see here now goes far beyond a description of seepage,” said local resident and retired coal miner Allen Parsley. “What you see before you is a disaster just waiting to happen.”
Consol Energy now owns the site after buying it from Marrowbone Development. Those living in the area have spoken with several representatives of the mining company as well as the Charleston and Logan offices of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, and say they wonder if they are being told the truth about the situation.
“All we want is for representatives from Consol and the DEP to sit down with us face-to-face, hear us out and truthfully answer our questions,” Hensley said. “We deserve nothing less … after all, this is our lives and our property at stake. They would expect the same courtesy to be extended to them if the roles were reversed.”
The information that has been made available to the group of concerned citizens thus far has been somewhat vague, but nonetheless, the residents were grateful for what little they were told. According to Parsley and Hensley, they were informed that some of the water standing in the mine had been drained, and the threat of “imminent danger” has supposedly been alleviated.
“What I want to know is where this draining supposedly took place, or is currently taking place,” Hensley said. “I’ve worked around mines all my life, and I know that when you’re draining that amount of water, there’s going to be obvious signs such as mud all around, and we are seeing nothing.”
Doug Gooslby, interim emergency services director for Mingo County, attended the meeting and told everyone that he had been told there was no immediate threat to the safety of those living near the old mining property, and said he had been assured that draining had occurred and said the DEP had employees in the vicinity around the clock to keep an eye on the situation.
“Well, if they have gotten rid of the problem, why do they have someone here 24/7 with a list of emergency numbers to call should anything happen?” Hensley asked. “If there’s no problem, I don’t think they would be paying someone to sit here for nothing.”
“All I have to go on right now is their word, and they all have told me the same thing - that being that the problem has been alleviated,” Goolsby said.
Parsley told the Daily News that it’s only common sense that you would drain the water from the point of origin, where the most pressure is.
“This is where the issues are - this is where the slide occurred, where the leakage seeps 24 hours a day … this is the spot that needs drilled and drained, this is where they need to address the problem, correct it and then properly seal it back off,” Parsley said. “They need to go to the lowest point and drill; that’s right here. All we are seeing is arrows that have been painted on the roadway where they plan to dig up the asphalt and bury a large drain pipe to help take some of the wetness away. The problem with this plan is that it will be going straight into the lake, which as far as I know, isn’t allowed.”
Those in attendance said they have been told the old mine works contain approximately eight-10 feet of water throughout.
“I was told by someone who know this situation very well that the mines holds three times as much water as what’s in Laurel Lake,” Hensley said. “That’s a heck of a lot of water. We would be washed away so fast we wouldn’t have time to blink.”
Hensley said that if the lake’s water level could be drained by eight-10 feet, they might actually have a fighting chance if a blowout occurred, but said he doesn’t think that’s a possibility. He said that he feels like he and his family, along with all their neighbors, are playing a game of Russian roulette, watching and praying for the inevitable to occur.
“We’re asking for everyone that will to please join us in our fight,” said resident Cindy Canterbury. “And we badly need the cooperation of the county and state officials to get an emergency plan of action in place so that everyone will know who is responsible for what, and who we can depend on.”
A second meeting will be scheduled in the near future and the Laurel Creek citizens that have stepped forward asking for assistance, as well as answers, encourage everyone who can to attend. The date, time and location will be announced.