Front Porch Blog

Underground mine blowout causes flood, property damage in Virginia

Accumulated water bursting out of CM Mining, LLC’s permit number 1202280 in Hurley, VA, Jan 30, 2019. Photo by the VA Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy.

On January 30th, water that had accumulated in an old underground coal mine near Hurley, Va., burst out through a previously sealed mine portal, causing a flash flood in the adjacent Elk Creek valley. The sudden and forceful release of water destabilized slopes and caused considerable damage outside the mine permit boundary, compromised existing sediment control structures within the mine permit boundary, and presented a serious hazard to nearby residents.

Phyllis Rife was washing dishes when she heard her Australian shepherd, a generally gentle and mellow dog, wildly barking outside. “I came to see what he was barking at and saw muddy water coming down the creek high enough to get over into the road just a wee bit. That dog was so upset. He’d never seen anything like that!”

Rife recalls the water initially seeming to recede before a much greater volume of water flowed through the hollow, damaging Rife’s property and the property of some of her neighbors. “It washed out the chain link fence and about half of my backyard,” said Rife. “It went under my floor from the east side and came out on the west side. Supports under the floor got washed out and I’ve got weak spots in the house now.”

According to complaints filed with the DMME, the flood also washed out a bridge and culvert, broke up pavement, damaged at least one vehicle and deposited mud and debris throughout the community of Elk Creek.

Muddy water escaping from an underground mine operated by CM Mining, LLC’s permit number 1202280 in Hurley, VA, Jan 30, 2019. Photo by the VA Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy.

On February 4th, the operator, CM Mining, LLC, was issued two violations—for failure to control sediment and failure to maintain proper backfilling and regrading of disturbed slopes—by the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy (DMME). The DMME also issued a cessation order due to the imminent harm posed to public health and safety by the blowout incident.

“The company is required to submit a plan for the DMME’s review and approval that addresses water conditions of the underground works. The plan will also list steps to prevent further material damage to off-site areas and any sudden release of built up water from the mine workings,” says Tarah Kesterson, Public Relations Manager for the agency. “This enforcement action also requires the removal and proper disposal of sediment and debris that resulted from the mine blowout, and repair of any eroded and other impacted areas located below the site of the blowout.”

The DMME inspector overseeing enforcement actions related to the incident has 30 days from February 4th to assess civil penalties. As of press time, no fines have yet been issued.

CM Mining is based in Pikeville, Ky. According to the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, the company holds 13 active coal mining permits, all in Buchanan County, Va.

Since August of last year, CM Mining has been issued four violations by the DMME on three of its other permits in the Hurley area. Three of these violations were for not reporting water monitoring data or failing to meet other administrative requirements. The fourth violation was for failing to maintain sediment control structures on a haul road.

A Virginia native who now splits his time between Johnson City, Tenn., and Wise County, Va., Willie has organized with environmental and social justice campaigns in the region for more than a decade. He is Appalachian Voices' Central Appalachian Field Coordinator.


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