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Water group opposes mine company dump plan

NEWBURG — The Save the Tygart Watershed Association (STTWA), along with the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club,  is  opposing a permit revision that would allow Leer Mining in Grafton to dump water into Three Forks Creek.

The revision proposes an artesian flow of 3,465 gallons per minute (gpm) of water from the deep mine works at the mine site, according to an amended notice of appeal of the WVDEP’s issuance of Revision 21 for (Leer Mine)  Permit No. U-2004-06.

  The appeal was filed by Elizabeth A. Bowers of the Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

This water, according to the proposed revision, will require treatment for 38 years after mining completion (predicted to be March 2033) before effluent limits can be met without treatment.

 The  water will be treated in two large ponds, which are supposed to reduce the amount of iron to 1.5 mg/l (milligrams per liter) before discharge.

Even at a level of 1.5 mg/l iron, with the  flow rate of 3,465 gpm, substantial iron staining and detrimental effects are possible in Three Fork Creek, according to the appeal.

Three Fork Creek begins in Preston County and enters the Tygart River in Grafton.

The discharge will also have a specific conductance of 3,120 umhos/cm. A West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) guidance document indicates that a specific conductance level of 1,533 umhos/cm or greater is a “definite stressor.”

The mine discharge will contain a sulfates level of 902 mg/l. The WVDEP guidance indicates that a sulfate level above 417 mg/l is a “definite stressor.”

Water quality stressors are identified when impacts have been noted to biological (fish and benthic) communities or when  water quality standards have been violated.

A second source of contamination going into Three Forks  is coming from the Whitetail Kittanning mine located outside Newburg.

For 10 years the Whitetail Kittanning Mine sat idle and filled with water. Eventually, that water began to escape, seeping along creeks, pooling in yards and contaminating residential wells. 

As an emergency solution to prevent a blowout, a borehole was drilled in the Whitetail Kittanning Mine.

 Water coming from the mine flows into Raccoon Creek.   Raccoon Creek empties into  Three Forks, a major tributary for the Tygart. 

In an earlier interview, Stan Jennings, president of STTWA, and STTWA chemist Paul Baker said the discharge from the borehole is disrupting the makeup of the stream  and directly impacting Three Fork Creek. 

 “There is scientific evidence high levels of dissolved solids impact the reproduction of aquatic insects as does high sulfates,” Baker said. “This impacts the fish population.”

Baker said it is important to keep the water in the Tygart clean. He said the river acts as a dilutant to the high level of dissolved solids and sulphates emptying into it from the  West Fork River.

The two rivers meet in Fairmont to form the Monongahela River.

 Baker said customers from Morgantown to Pittsburgh get their drinking water from the Mon River. Fairmont customers get their drinking water from the Tygart.

 He said currently there are no statutory limits on how much sulfate and dissolved solids can be put into streams and rivers.

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