NEW LEXINGTON — The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) will hold a second public meeting on a permit for the proposed Perry State Forest coal mine on Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 6 p.m. at New Lexington High School.

ODNR is currently reviewing a permit application by Westmoreland Coal Company, and its local subsidiary Oxford Mining Company, both of which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Oct. 9.

Earlier this month, the company’s Buckingham and Oxford mines were purchased by the newly formed CCU Coal and Construction, as part of the bankruptcy process. The permit for the proposed mine, would allow the company to strip mine more than 500 acres of public land.

If ODNR issues a mining permit, Oxford could mine within close proximity to homes and directly up to property lines, potentially causing structural damage to homes and wells, reduced property values, increased traffic on local roads, noise from blasting and traffic, and air and water pollution.

During the June 5, 2018 ODNR public meeting, which more than 100 local residents attended to voice opposition to the project, officials admitted that locations one mile away would be able to hear explosions and feel tremors.

“We use our water well for our home. We have never had any problems with our water. There has never been a public water line access to Number 8 Hollow Road. If the blasting cracks our well and cisterns, we won’t have any water at all,” said Bonnie Garey, who lives on Number 8 Hollow Road, about 300 feet from the proposed mine boundary.

She is a lifelong New Lexington resident and her husband regularly fishes for bass, bluegill, crappy, and catfish in the forest’s ponds.

“We’re concerned with the air quality also. My husband and child have asthma. Mining so close to our home would pose a substantial risk of dirty air,” she added.

“We have saved all our lives to buy a farm. We finally purchase one and now we worry every day that we may lose it due to mining in Perry State Forest,” said Jeff and Tara Ivers of New Lexington. “We’re also worried about our well water going bad and not being able to use it for us or our animals, and not being able to provide for our family.”

In addition to impacting local residents, the project affects APV trails within the Perry State Forest. Perry is the most popular APV area in the entire state, drawing riders from other states and countries and creating significant economic benefit for the county.

Friends of Perry State Forest, a group of concerned residents and recreationists who oppose the project, has criticized the state’s failure to consider the project’s social and economic impacts or Oxford’s financial woes, and points to Oxford’s checkered performance history in the county, which suggests the company will ignore the state’s blasting and water discharge limitations, putting water and local residents’ homes at risk.

According to information received as part of a public records request, Friends of Perry State Forest discovered that Oxford has had 62 permit violations in Perry County between 1995 and 2018. At least seven instances of “acid water” discharges were listed among the violations. At least 10 blasting violations were also noted, including many where blasting exceeded peak particle velocity limits on nearby private property.

In one case, pieces of rock as large as 18 inches across were cast onto nearby private property. In another case, the company failed to monitor by seismograph a blast in close proximity to a gas line. Other permit violations included mining outside of designated areas, mining before completion of a sediment control system, failure to follow a blasting plan, and failure to supply a blasting schedule and pre-blast survey to a local resident.

“The terrain of the land and the quality of the water ways have been impacted negatively by past mining efforts. It is difficult to believe a bankrupt mining company is the only means of hope for the area’s future,” said Joelene Dixon, who owns property on No 8 Hollow Road near the proposed mining area. She and her husband had planned to build their retirement home on the property, but the project has them questioning their future.

Friends of Perry State Forest note numerous problems in Oxford’s application, including failure to establish baseline pollution loads or describe water treatment practices, which would demonstrate that the project would result in improved water quality.

They note that Oxford has failed to test a number of water wells belonging to residents living in close proximity to the proposed coal mine, and that the company’s application is inadequately prepared and fails to answer numerous questions.

Moreover, the group has expressed concerns that the company’s bankruptcy and sale suggest it is not prepared to clean up the mess its project will cause. In its bankruptcy filing, Westmoreland described its obligations for reclamation and restoration of sites and protection of water quality as “burdensome regulations.”

Concerned citizens can submit comments to ODNR at alicia.davis@dnr.state.oh.us and include ODNR Application No. 10555.

On Jan. 22, Friends of Perry State Forest and the Ohio Environmental Council filed an appeal with the Environmental Review Appeals Commission, challenging a Clean Water Act permit issued by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) for the project.

Friends of Perry State Forest is currently raising funds to cover the costs of the appeal. Donations can be made at www.gofundme.com/save-perry-state-forest.

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