The Pocahontas Coal Co. LLC unit of United Coal Co. LLC is seeking a Section 404 Clean Water Act permit for an expanded refuse area for the Affinity prep plant, which was recently rebuilt and revived to process coal for the newly-revived Affinity deep mine.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office in Huntington, W.Va., is taking public comment on the application until Oct. 27. The proposed project is located about 0.7 miles southeast of Midway in Raleigh County, W.Va. Pocahontas Coal proposes to discharge fill material into waters of the U.S. associated with the expansion of the existing Affinity Refuse Impoundment. The required SMCRA Permit O-73-82, IBR No. 3, is currently under review by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. “The basic project purpose is to provide additional storage for coal refuse material generated at the adjacent preparation plant (O-135-83),” said a Corps public notice.
The proposed refuse facility expansion (covering 38.61 acres) would result in the discharge of approximately 68 cubic yards of fill material into a total of 1,334 linear feet of stream. That figure includes permanent discharge of fill material into 711 linear feet of intermittent stream channel and 378 linear feet of ephemeral stream channel for the refuse facility expansion, and temporary discharge of fill material into 245 linear feet of intermittent stream channel during construction and maintenance of one sediment control structure.
Due to years of environmental group litigation over Section 404 permitting in this region, and a get-tough policy by the Obama Administration’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in its Corps advisory role, these kinds of permits have gotten pretty tough to get in recent years.
The Corps noted that Pocahontas Coal evaluated a full range of alternatives that included: not expanding the coal refuse facility; combined coarse and fine fills; coarse fill with underground injections; slurry cells; and a variety of impounding facilities, including a side-hill fill, impounding embankment, incised pond and a fully-diked impoundment. It concluded that it is not practicable to expand the coal refuse facility without excavation and subsequent discharge of fill material into jurisdictional waters of the U.S. The results of their analysis indicated that a combination of a refuse/impoundment, as proposed, would decrease the overall acreage disturbance required and reduce impacts to waters of the U.S. from the discharge of fill material, and would, therefore, represent the least environmentally damaging practical alternative to meet the overall project purpose, considering cost, logistics, existing technology and environmental considerations.
The company’s proposed alternative incorporates the following measures to minimize impacts to aquatic resources: utilizing an existing refuse facility; utilizing an area outside of waters of the U.S., in the northwest portion of the proposed project area, that would store 70% of the total coal refuse material generated; and locating the sediment control structure as close as practical to the impoundment area. Utilization and expansion of the existing coal refuse facility, rather than constructing a refuse facility on an undisturbed site, would avoid 500 linear feet of temporary impacts and 2,400 linear feet of permanent impacts to waters of the U.S. The proposed alternative would result in filling about 1,334 linear feet of waters of the U.S., and would allow facilities that contribute coal refuse material to extract about 1,500,000 tons of coal annually for 15 years.
United Coal restarted Affinity as a major met coal producer
CSX Transportation recently posted a notice to its website about its access to the recently revived and rebuilt Affinity prep plant in Raleigh County. “Affinity, WV is a new/old CSXT coal origin that will be accessed via trackage rights over NS,” said the notice. “It was formerly accessed direct via the C&O’s RSW&WG subdivision and was identified as Keystone 5 (aka Affinity). The mine produces low vol metallurgical coal and had been closed since the mid 1980s.”
The site is at milepost CAQ 7, has a four-hour loading capability and is operated under United’s Affinity Coal, the notice said.
United Coal parent Metinvest announced in July 2011 the re-start of the Affinity mine. The planned capacity of this operation is 1.9 million tonnes per year. Dale Birchfield, President of Affinity Coal, said at the time: “We are very pleased that this project, which will comprise four super sections and a state of the art preparation plant, has been fully completed on time.”
The Affinity mine produced 70,421 tons in the first half of this year, and 8,071 tons during 2011 after a production start in the second quarter of that year, according to U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration data.