Many people might not be aware that when FEMA speaks about being prepared for an emergency, the agency is not just referring to a terrorist attack similar to 9/11.
FEMA has an entire section of emergency management devoted to natural hazards and the federal agency responsible for the evacuation of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina has been warning the rest of the nation that we, too, need to be prepared on a local level when natural disasters strike.
That is the current predicament that faces the small community of Harriman, Tennessee, where millions of yards of coal sludge broke through a dike at TVA’s Kingston coal-fired plant at 1:00 in the morning just two days before Christmas.
Hundreds of acres have been destroyed, covered in the toxic sludge and at least two of the more than 12 homes in the sludge’s 400-acre path are now deemed inhabitable.
"I fully suspect that the amount of rain we've had in the last eight to 10 days, plus the freezing weather … might have had something to do with this," Tom Kilgore, president and CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority told reporters in a news conference Monday on the site.
Tennessee, like West Virginia, had received large amounts of rain the week preceding Christmas.
In Boone County, there are 14 such coal slurry or coal refuse disposal sites.
And, like Tennessee, West Virginia has its share of these coal slurry impoundments, which begs the question – is Boone County prepared if a coal slurry impoundment were to break?
All 14 sites have been registered with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
Each of these locations have on file with the WV DEP a “Monitoring and Emergency Warning Plan and Procedures” document in case of a situation that could cause the coal slurry impoundment to rupture or “spill over.”
Wind River Resources Corp. operates the Plant 1 Coal Refuse Disposal at Clothier, with a maximum capacity of 670,971,189 gallons of coal slurry, and according to its monitoring and emergency warning plan, “everyone living or working within 27.3 miles downstream of the Little Coal River will be asked to evacuate.”
Hobet Mining operates the Monclo Refuse Dam/Impoundment, with a maximum capacity of 1.4119 billion gallons of coal slurry.
A Class C Dam is defined by the WV DEP as, “those dams located where failure may cause a loss of human life or serious damage to homes, industrial and commercial buildings, important public utilities, primary highways or main haul roads.”
The evacuation center in case the Monclo Refuse Dam/Impoundment were to rupture is documented as Jeffrey Spencer Grade School located on Hewett Creek, according to their emergency warning plan.
Hobet also operates the Slippery Gut Slurry Impoundment at Julian, with a maximum capacity of 1,717,964,697 gallons of coal slurry, according to their recent emergency warning plan.
Pine Ridge Coal Company operates the Spruce Lick Refuse Impoundment, near Twilight, with maximum capacity of 1.5618 billion gallons of coal slurry.
Pine Ridge Coal Co. also operates the Lotts Fork Refuse, near Prenter, a Class C Dam, with a maximum capacity of 985,763,889 gallons of coal slurry. In its emergency warning plan filed with the WV DEP, the evacuation procedures include, “citizens should report to the evacuation center at the Big Mountain Office and Mine Rescue Station.”
Eastern Associated Coal Corp. operates the Rocklick Branch Refuse Impoundment with a maximum capacity of 3.0174 billion gallons of coal slurry. This, too, is classified as a Class C Dam and the primary evacuation center is documented as Van High School with a secondary evacuation center at Brookview Elementary School in Rock Creek.
Another coal slurry impoundment operated by Eastern Associated Coal Corp., is the Jarrells Branch Refuse, near Bim, with a maximum capacity of 2.2810 billion gallons of coal slurry, designating it, too, as a Class C Dam.
Jupiter Coal Company operates the Pond Fork Slurry Impoundment with a maximum capacity of 267.85 million gallons of coal slurry and, according to its emergency warning plan lists Uneeda Grade School as its evacuation center. The Uneeda Grade School has been renamed the Boone Pre-K Center since the emergency warning plan was created.
Catenary Coal operates the Moccasin Hollow Slurry, also classified as a Class C Dam, with a maximum capacity of 837,764,019 gallons of coal slurry.
Independence Coal Co. operates the Jake Gore Slurry Impoundment, designated as a Class C Dam, with a maximum capacity of 4.3664 billion gallons of coal slurry. The evacuation center designated in the emergency plan is Van High School and the Madison Civic Center.
Independence Coal Co. also operates the Elisa Flork Slurry Impoundement, a Class C Dam, with a maximum capacity of 769.01 million gallons of coal slurry. Van High School, Madison Civic Center and Brookview Elementary School are listed as the three evacuation centers in the case of an emergency.
Elk Run Coal Co. operates the Chess Processing Refuse Disposal at Sylvester, a Class C Dam, with a maximum capacity of 769 million gallons of coal slurry and according to their emergency plan, the Boone and Kanawha County sheriff’s departments and OES would initiate the evacuations.
There is a Crooked Run Impoundment on file at Peytona, a Class C Dam with maximum capacity listed at 2,769,334,331 gallons of coal slurry.
Chesterfield Preparation Plant, owned by Omar Mining Co., is also listed as a Class C Dam with a maximum capacity of 2.9594 billion gallons of coal waste and according to its emergency plan, “citizens should report to the Madison Civic Center” in case of an emergency that would require evacuation.
Eagle Energy, Inc. is listed with the WV DEP as the owner of Brown’s Branch Slurry Impoundment at Van, a designated Class C Dam with a maximum capacity of 619,157,484 gallons of coal slurry.
In all 14 coal slurry monitory and emergency warning plans and procedures documents on file with the WV DEP, there is a mandatory weekly inspection to be conducted on site to evaluate the levels of slurry and the condition of the impoundments.
As thoroughly detailed in the Jarrells Branch Refuse Impoundment Monitoring Plan, normal conditions are described as “dry weather and occasional light rainfall, the impoundment shall be examined by a qualified person for appearances of structural weakness and other hazardous conditions.”
It continues to describe adverse conditions as “ considered to be heavy or extended rainfalls, flash flood warnings, earthquakes, extensive snow melts, slope instability, or uncontrolled seepage.”
During such periods of adverse conditions, the monitoring and emergency plan at Jarrells Branch Refuse Impoundment states that “the embankment shall be inspected daily or more often as determined necessary by a qualified person.”
At the Jarrells Branch Refuse Impoundment, as an example of coal slurry impoundments in Boone County, West Virignia, if “pool levels come within three feet of the crest of the dam,” a standby alert is to be issued to the following agencies: WVDEP, WVDEP Regional Office, Office of Emergency Services (Boone County OES), Sheriff’s Office, MSHA.
According to the Association of State Dam Safety, 17 states do not require owners of high and moderate hazard dams to prepare, update and test Emergency Action Plans.
In Boone County, 14 coal slurry impoundment owners have filed emergency action plans with the state DEP, but it is unclear if they initiate drills on a regular basis to test their plans’ effectiveness.
Contact Joanie Newman at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 304-369-1165.