By Harvard Ayers
Blaine Meador’s wife has heard Kayford Mountain talk, and she doesn’t like what it’s saying.
Looming above Dorothy, West Virginia, a giant crack has opened out of coal-mined Kayford Mountain that she and everyone else in town worries may break off a chunk of the mountain, a chunk large enough to slide all the way down the precipitous slope and onto their homes.
She winces at the daily blasts from the nearby Arch Coal mountaintop removal coal mine that rattle her windows and shake her house.
What is that doing to the crack on Kayford Mountain?
Local resident Larry Gibson first saw the cracks last August when they appeared only a few inches wide. Now they have grown up to more than two feet long and four feet wide; Gibson can look down them into the mountain for what looks like 100 feet.
Television stations have documented the widening of the cracks, but their recent filling in by officials as a mitigation of the problem makes further analysis difficult.
Gibson, Meador, and the four hundred other residents of the town are finding it equally difficult to believe that dumping fill dirt will allay the fear or stop a potential catastrophe.
Soon after the Meadors first reported the mine crack on the mountain in early July, geologist Dr. Loren Raymond of Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, visited Dorothy and Kayford Mountain. Not just a teacher, Raymond runs the consulting firm Geologic Services International, and is widely experienced in analyzing landslides and earthquakes. Raymond found “there is ample evidence to be concerned about a major disaster here.”
He specifically cited two types of cracks on the Dorothy side of Kayford Mountain, the first represented by the familiar straight fractures of the area likely related to subsidence over deep underground mines worked for decades that lie hundreds of feet below the top of the mountain. –The second type were the newer curved fractures that to Raymond represented a landslide in the making.
The day’s investigation convinced Raymond that further study was critically needed to determine just how serious the Kayford Mountain situation might be, especially with the nearby blasting continuing. Are the underground mines causing the cracks to fil with water or sludge which could lubricate and exacerbate any slide? Are there bulges far down the steep slope toward Dorothy indicating that a large portion of the mountain would slide down?
Yes to either of these questions could mean that a half-mile long section of the Town of Dorothy could be buried under more than 100 feet of rock so quickly that no one might possibly escape. Such a slide could mean significant consequences farther down mountain to communities all the way to Whitesville, about 6 miles from Dorothy.
Whatever the nature of the cracks, deep mines and slope conditions, Raymond believed that the on-going mountaintop removal blasting at the Samples mine of Arch Coal north of town (and only two miles from the cracks)had to stop, at least until a more detailed - and neutral - study could be completed.
To date it the situation continues status quo as Dorothy awaits the results of a West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection report on the Kayford Mountain cracks, due to be completed August 15.
A DEP spokesperson has said the public release may be significantly delayed after that date for internal “review.”