REMINDER: This Thursday, 2-22, is the COMMENT DEADLINE on OEPA’s National Permit to Discharge (NPDES) for Oxford Mining Company’s proposed Trimble Township strip mine on Johnson Run. The draft NPDES permit is full of inaccuracies and omissions, as documented by almost two-dozen speakers at the public hearing last week. Please write Director Butler and demand another hearing on the NPDES draft permit once Oxford and OEPA have done their homework and followed the laws! Mr. Butler must require Oxford to submit accurate and complete data, and OEPA must then evaluate this data and document this evaluation as required under Ohio and federal law. It would be an abuse of power for Mr. Butler to issue a final NPDES permit without allowing the public to weigh in on a meaningful draft. The current one is a sham!
The Oxford application, on which the draft NPDES permit is based, is rife with incomplete and inaccurate data. Oxford – and likewise OEPA!–completely omits any mention of the $2.5 million and years of labor spent by OEPA, ODNR, Rural Action, and federal partners to restore the West Branch of Sunday Creek Watershed. This is in direct contradiction to Ohio and federal anti-degradation and Clean Water Act laws, which require that social and economic investments in the watershed and COSTS of the mine to the community be acknowledged by a mining applicant and considered by OEPA. This glaring omission is but one of many, suggesting an intent by Oxford and OEPA to ignore the law and Ohio regulations in an attempt to get approval for a mining project Athens County as if its for the greater good.
This OEPA permit would allow Oxford to degrade the water quality of Johnson Run and the West Branch of Sunday Creek by allowing all the retained mine water sediment and other minerals from coal company “ponds” to be discharged into Johnson Run, which flows into the West Branch of Sunday Creek. The proposed mine is in a floodplain, and Oxford has yet to submit any FEMA-required plans to the county for approval. Flooding of the sedimentation “ponds” would make any treatment moot, since untreated mine drainage is likely to flow into the creek whenever the valley floods. OEPA revealed at the hearing that they did not even know about the 400 acres recently logged upstream of the valley, let alone account for the run-off from this upstream property in its required calculations for permit issuance. OEPA also has not received engineering plans for mining within the stream buffer zone of Johnson Run. Such plans must be approved by ODNR before OEPA can grant this permit.
From a dead stream twenty years ago, the West Branch now hosts 17 species of fish and has reached water quality goals and the designation of warm water habitat over 14 miles of the creek. Restoration of the lower third of the West Branch will be completely undone, and the watershed downstream therefore impacted as well, if Johnson Run is mined.
Furthermore, the economic benefits that Oxford and OEPA claim are not substantiated and are in fact based solely on statements by a company with a history of fraud and repeated violations. Oxford claims there will be an economic revival, although the jobs will be temporary, not necessarily go to Athens County residents, and not even result in spending in the county, due to the location of the mine and the destination of its dirty coal outside the county.
OEPA Director Craig Butler has issued a draft NPDES (National Permit to Discharge Elimination System) permit and a statement, which misrepresents the facts. He wrote: “I have determined that a lowering of water quality in Johnson Run and subsequently West Branch Sunday Creek is necessary. In accordance with OAC 3745-1-05, this decision was reached only after examining a series of technical alternatives, reviewing social and economic issues related to the degradation, and considering all public and appropriate intergovernmental comments.”
Yet these are the facts: The director reviewed the 40 public comments submitted, all against the mine. Athens County receives no tax dollars from the coal extracted. Oxford does not mention the 20 years of restoration work and millions of state federal and local dollars spent reclaiming the Watershed. Director Butler did not address Oxford’s lack of compliance with OAC 3745-01-05 (B)(3)(h), which requires: “To the extent that such information is known to those in the local community or is otherwise public, a listing and description of all government or privately sponsored conservation projects that have specifically targeted improved water quality or enhanced recreational opportunities on the water body affected by the activity.” Oxford does not mention the 20-year restoration project, therefore ignoring its profound social or economic value and all that value that will lost if this mine happens. Oxford’s application instead discusses how the mine benefits Oxford, stating that the proposed surface mine is “essential for marketing strategies and as such a key element in the financial success of Oxford Mining Company LLC.”
Under federal and state law, Director Butler has a duty to preserve the remarkable improvements in the West Branch. Instead, he proposes to destroy them. OEPA and Oxford have provided no reasonable justification for Oxford to be allowed to degrade water quality of the West Branch of Sunday Creek, and have ignored negative economic and environmental impacts and input provided. OEPA has provided no evidence of required socio-economic evaluations of costs and benefits to the community of this mine. We demand such an evaluation, which will clearly show the highly detrimental social and economic impacts of this mine, which make an NPDES permit illegal and contrary to the interests and voluminously stated concerns of the residents of Athens County. We request another hearing after this evaluation is completed, when inadequacies have been addressed and our questions have been answered, before OEPA considers issuing a final permit.
Written comments can be sent through Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. Use this i.d. to identify the permit: ID # 0IL00168*AD. Email to epa.DSWComments@epa.ohio.gov.