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Marsh Fork Elementary School Update
Marsh Fork Elementary School is located in the Coal River Valley of West Virginia. Goals Coal, a Massey Energy subsidiary, owns and operates a coal processing plant and a 2.8 billion-gallon toxic waste storage facility (sludge dam) near the school. This seeping dam sits 400 yards from the school, and a coal silo ominously looms 150 feet from school grounds. This silo loads powdered coal onto trains and sprays it with a chemical binding agent. Another Massey subsidiary, Independence Coal, operates a 1,849-acre surface strip mining operation above and around the school and dam.

In the spring of 2005, Massey applied for a permit to build a second silo next to the first. In May, Coal River Valley residents, Coal River Mountain Watch, and Mountain Justice Summer participants participated in a public hearing on the permit application and conducted two protests at the Massey facility. Eighteen people were arrested trying to deliver a list of demands to Massey, including the demands that Massey withdraw the silo application and shut down its operation next to the school.

On June 22, CRMW met with Gov. Joe Manchin and other state officials to present their concerns and evidence. On June 29, two West Virginia residents, including a father of a student at Marsh Fork, were arrested trying to deliver a list of demands to Massey Energy headquarters in Richmond, VA. On June 30, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) approved the permit for second coal silo. On July 5, Ed Wiley, whose granddaughter attends Marsh Fork Elementary School, staged a sit-in on the steps of the Capitol Building in Charleston. The Governor agreed to meet with Wiley and scheduled another meeting with concerned citizens. On July 7, the Governor’s representatives and heads of DEP and Department of Health and Human Resources met with members of CRMW. The Governor’s staff repeatedly expressed the Governor’s concern for the children and promised a multi-agency investigation regarding the health and safety of Marsh Fork Elementary children. Also on July 7, the Department of Education conducted an “air quality investigation” at MFE with no concerned community members present. They did not test for coal dust or airborne chemicals. On July 26, DEP rescinded the permit for the second silo and ordered the foundation destroyed. It appeared that Massey had shifted the permit boundary and that neither of the coal silos was entirely within the original permitted area.

Since the DEP rescinded Massey’s permit to build the second coal silo, the state of West Virginia and the Raleigh County School Board have done nothing to ensure the students’ health and safety. The recent Sago mine disaster has raised doubts about regulatory agencies’ effectiveness in ensuring either miners’ safety or that of the neighboring community, especially given the safety violations at the sludge dam 400 yards from the school. Coal River Mountain Watch and Mountain Sustainability Project have been keeping the school a top priority and pushing for a safe, clean school in the children’s community. Here’s a short summary of events since the silo permit revocation:

July 26: DEP rescinded permit for second silo and ordered foundation destroyed. The same day, Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship filed a lawsuit against Governor Manchin, claiming the permit rescission was retaliation for Blankenship’s opposition to Manchin’s proposed pension bond amendment. Blankenship said, “He shut my silo down, and I shot him with this lawsuit.” Shortly afterward, Massey appealed the rescission to the state Surface Mine Board. Legal maneuvers between Massey and DEP continue, with CRMW as an intervenor in the case.

August 5: DEP delayed order to destroy silo pending Massey’s appeal.

August 25: Department of Education conducted second “air quality investigation” at MFE, accompanied by CRMW members. Again, they did not test for coal dust or chemicals, claiming that such tests would be too expensive. They declared the particulate level safe without basing that judgment on any reference or standard.

August 26: Students returned to Marsh Fork Elementary school without receiving confirmation that it is safe. The state Department of Health and Human Resources did not conduct a health survey of the students, despite CRMW’s unofficial survey showing a high incidence of health problems. Regarding the sludge dam, WV DEP Secretary Stephanie Timmermeyer wrote, “The extensive oversight by federal and state regulatory agencies indicates that the impoundment has been constructed and is maintained in accordance with federal and state laws.”

September 30: Carte Goodwin, Governor Manchin’s Chief Counsel, sent a letter to CRMW stating “that the extensive investigation revealed no evidence of health risks or regulatory noncompliance.” Goodwin further stated that “the professionals and experts involved had found that no additional analysis or testing is required at this time, apart from the Administration’s ongoing obligation to ensure continued compliance with the aforementioned safety and maintenance regulations.”

October 14: CRMW and Mountain Sustainability Project attended the state quarter release and Capitol dome unveiling ceremony. There, we passed out hundreds of brochures asking people to write to Governor Manchin asking for a safe, clean school in the students’ own community.

November 11: Stephen Lester, Science Director for the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice, sent a letter to CRMW stating that the Department of Education’s air quality investigations were “extremely limited,” did not “provide a proper assessment of the indoor quality at the school,” and “provide meaningless information about the indoor air quality at the school.”

December 2005: Massey Energy resumes blasting during school hours.

December 6: Massey Energy published notice of application for an air quality permit administrative update (R13-2482C) to increase particulate pollution from the site by 3.49 tons per year. This includes increasing loadout rates from TWO silos (the existing silo and the revoked silo) by 400%.

January 4, 2006: CRMW delivered a letter to DEP opposing the air quality permit and asking for a public hearing.

January 5 and 6, 2006: WV Public Radio aired reports focusing on lax Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) enforcement prior to the Sago mine disaster. The reports discussed safety violations identified by MSHA inspections of the sludge dam above the school.

January 12, 2006: DEP published notice of Massey Energy’s application to increase manganese output into the river behind the school. The notice asks for public input from citizens using water downstream.

January 16, 2006: WVVA TV news reported CRMW’s ongoing concerns for the students’ health and safety, especially in light of the safety violations identified by the MSHA inspections at the sludge dam.

February 16, 2006: DEP DENIED Massey’s air quality permit application to increase coal dust output at its site next to the school.

March 1, 2006: American School Board Journal published cover story “The Coal Mine Next Door” about MFE.

Please write to the governor and ask him to ensure the kids of Marsh Fork Elementary get a new, safe school IN THEIR OWN COMMUNITY, not below a dangerous sludge dam or next to a coal silo, and not a long bus ride from home. These kids deserve a healthy learning environment. His address is

Gov. Joe Manchin III
1900 Kanawha Boulevard, E.
Charleston, WV 25305

©2005

Coal River 

Mountain Watch