Hearing Digs Deep into Coal-mine Issue: Supporters and Opponents Speak during EPA Hearing

By: Kayla Beard

Dozens of concerned area residents gathered at Burr Oak State Park Lodge Thursday evening to comment on a draft permit that would allow a coal-mining company to dump chemical waste from its proposed strip and surface mine in Trimble Township into nearby Johnson Run.

Most of the comments opposed the mining plan, though some supported it.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held the public hearing to receive input on a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit application submitted by Oxford Mining Company of Coshocton.

If approved, the permit will allow the nearly 300-acre mine to discharge wastewater into Johnson Run from five sediment ponds, which collect runoff from the strip mine area, spoil piles, topsoil piles, haul road and non-paved parking area, according to a state EPA news release issued Feb. 1.

According to the news release, the proposed project could result in a change in current water quality conditions but “does not authorize any violation of Ohio’s water-quality standards that protect human health and the environment.” EPA permit reviewer Scott Foster gave a brief presentation explaining some of the permit details at the start of Thursday’s meeting, after which he and two other “technical permit reviewers” answered questions from the audience.

Permit reviewer Eric Nygaard explained that “water-quality issues” are defined by state EPA standards based on current pH levels and chemical concentrations in the waterways. “We look at what the (waste) discharge would need to be to meet water-quality standards in those streams,” Nygaard said. “We then compare that to the data that we’ve got… and say OK, are those water quality numbers going to be exceeded?”.