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Ky. Coal Co. Fined for Sludge Spill

July 31, 2002

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PIKEVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ State officials said Wednesday that the company responsible for one of the nation’s worst coal sludge spills has agreed to pay $3.25 million as punishment.

Martin County Coal will pay $1.75 million in penalties, $1 million for damage to the environment and $500,000 to pay back the state for the cleanup.

More than 300 million gallons of water and sludge broke through the bottom of the impoundment pond on a mountaintop outside Inez on Oct. 11, 2000. The material gushed into underground coal mine portals, out into the two creeks and into the Big Sandy River.

Lawns were buried up to 7 feet deep in the molasses-like mixture. All fish were killed in two streams, and drinking water supplies were fouled along 60 miles of the Big Sandy River.

The Environmental Protection Agency called the spill one of the worst environmental disasters ever in the Southeast.

Mark York, a spokesman for the state environmental agency, said the agreement also requires the company, a subsidiary of Massey Energy of Richmond, Va., to close and reclaim the 70-acre pond and to continue the cleanup.

Company representatives couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

``It seems like they have taken a step finally in the right direction,″ said Larry Preece, whose yard was blackened by the sludge. ``The people who were directly affected by this slurry spill have suffered greatly. If these companies aren’t made to pay for what they’ve done to the people, what’s their incentive to stop.″

In April, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration fined Martin County Coal $110,000, the legal maximum. MSHA and the U.S. Office of Surface Mining concluded that the company could have prevented the spill and had failed to take steps following a smaller leak at the pond in 1994.

The company, which expects to spend $46.5 million on the cleanup, is being sued by residents who were affected by the spill and by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.

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