Bill Daniels and Alice Harmon and Roger Tackett and his family have had to scrub a lot of coal dust off their homes and outdoor furniture over the last half decade. They have been in two lawsuits and made complaint after complaint to the DEP. The dust just keeps coming.
The source of the dust is the prep plant for Mate Creek Energy of WV, located along Mate Creek, near Newtown in Mingo County. It's not a huge plant, like that in Sylvester, but the stockpiles are uncovered and the homes are less than a half mile away. All it takes to coat the homes with gritty coal particles is a wind in the right direction.
After several years of complaints, DEP inspectors have tried to make the company control the dust. Sprinklers were installed to control the blowing dust. But still the problems continued, as described in the complaints:
"Mr. (Gregory) Parsley stated that he was getting coal dust from Mate Creek Energy's prep plant on his house," was the complaint of March 6, 2000. The DEP inspector found: "Mr. Parsley had some dust and stains on the vinyl of his house. But at the time of the inspection of Mate Creek Energy's permit, they had been running the water sprays and watering the haulroads."
A day later: "Mr. (James) Tackett stated that he had washed his house in December and now it was covered in coal dust from Mate Creek Energy's permit. He stated that they had not been running the water sprays since December." The inspector found some dust on the house, but he also found that the water sprays were running.
Even when the spays did run, they didn't seem to control the dust. On March 8, 2000, Bill Daniels told the inspector that he had new siding put on his house in the fall of 1999, and now it was covered in coal dust from the prep plant. Again, the inspector found dust on the house.
A year later, and still the complaints continued. Shirley McCanahan called the inspector to say that her house, washed the summer before, was now covered with dust. Again, he confirmed the coating of dust. Roger Tackett and Bill Daniels had similar complaints. And again the inspector confirmed that there was dust.
This time, though, the DEP inspector gave the company a violation for failing to control fugitive dust. He ordered additional measures to control dust, such as better water sprays or a fence.
The order was given March 26, 2001. A visit on July 2, 2001 found dust on the homes, as pictured below and still no better dust control measures, though the beginning of a fence could be seen.
In mid-October, Bill Daniels reported, "There's been no change; it's terrible. They say it will be better when they put the fence up." The fence is now halfway complete.
It hasn't been just two years since the problems began. It's been at least a half dozen. A group of citizens hired a lawyer in the mid-1990s, but nothing came of the case. Finally, about a year ago, they hired one of the lawyers who represented Vicky and Tommy Moore of Blair in their dust nuisance case against Arch Coal. The judge ordered the case to proceed quickly, so the citizens think the case was weakened. However, they did win a bit of money in the settlement. What they didn't win, so far, were better dust controls.
Six years seems like an awfully long time to be cleaning black grime off houses.