The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office in Huntington, W.Va., is taking public comment until June 25 on a Section 404 Clean Water Act permit application from Southern Minerals Inc. for the Upper Shannon Branch No. 2 strip mine, located 1.7 miles north of Welch in McDowell County, W.Va.
This is one of the rare public notices issued recently by the Corps office in Huntington, the target of years of environmental group lawsuits over Section 404 permitting for large-scale surface mines. More recently, this permitting has been largely frozen under a new, get-tough permitting process imposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a cooperating agency in the Corps review process.
The Upper Shannon Branch No. 2 project, covered also by West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection mine permit #S401809, would involve contour, auger and highwall mining of the Welch and Sewell coal seams. Two valley fills would be part of the project. The Corps noted that four valley fills were originally planned, but a re-look at the project found ways, for example, to put some fill material into an adjacent permitted area, allowing a reduction of the fills to two.
The West Virginia DEP on Jan. 18 issued the mine permit for the 151-acre Upper Shannon Branch No. 2 job. No state inspections had been done at the site as of May 29, indicating that mining has not started yet.
Southern Minerals, controlled by coal operator Edward Asbury, has only two mines, both underground operations in McDowell County, listed under its name at the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.