By David DeWitt
November 13, 2017 - An Ohio-based coal company appealing the Athens County Commissioners’ decision to rescind a road waiver for the company’s proposed northern Athens County mining project is expected to seek a new waiver from the Commissioners on Dec. 5.
The Commissioners last year granted the right-of-way waiver to Oxford Coal Co. for work within 100 feet of County Road 68 as it relates to the mining project near Glouster. Oxford currently has a permit for the mine pending before the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The Ohio EPA recently approved a water-quality permit for the proposed coal mine.
The permit area for the project is about 300 acres, located off Johnson Run Road not far from the Trimble State Wildlife Area. Oxford’s proposal calls for a five-year mining plan.
Local environmentalists critical of the proposed mine have attended multiple Athens County Commission meetings over the past several months, encouraging them to rescind the waiver and to oppose the project.
In September, the Commissioners asked Oxford to voluntarily go through the public-hearing process again for the waiver after a mistake was found on its public notice for the hearing that already had been held.
The problem with the first public notice was that it did not specifically define what impact the operation would have on the road and its right-of-way. Plans submitted by the company do show those details, but the public notice failed to include them.
The waiver allowed work right up to the roadway, though Athens County Engineer Jeff Maiden has said that the company’s plan actually calls for mining between 45 feet and 50 feet from the roadway.
On Sept. 19, the Commissioners voted to rescind the roadway waiver after Oxford declined to voluntarily re-do the public-hearing process.
Opponents of the mine from the Athens County Fracking Action Network’s “Save Our Rural Environment” (SORE) applauded that decision. The SORE group attended multiple county Commission meetings in opposition to the mine, and at one point a SORE statement suggested that the Commissioners, if they didn’t rescind the roadway waiver, would be guilty of climate-change denial.
On Sept. 29, Oxford filed a notice of appeal in Athens County Common Pleas Court.
In the appeal, Oxford argues that the Commissioners lacked valid grounds under Ohio law to rescind the road permit; that the Commissioners usurped the authority of the ODNR Division of Mineral Resources Management, “which holds authority to approve the proposed mining permit,” the appeal said; that the Commissioners denied Oxford procedural due process; and that the Commissioners deprived Oxford of its road permit “without a rational basis in law or fact and without any new information to support changing its decision to grant the permit.”
The Commissioners have said the Prosecutor’s Office informed them that the public notice was defective, and they had discretion on whether the defect was fatal to the process. If the Commissioners determined it was, they said at the time, they could rescind the waiver, which they eventually did.
A consultant for Oxford sent an email to Commissioners President Lenny Eliason last week saying that the consultant – Buckeye Mineral Services Inc. – has requested a meeting with the Commissioners Dec. 5 to get a new waiver signed.
Oxford also sent out a legal notice to The Athens Messenger, which was published yesterday (Sunday). It includes the Dec. 5 meeting with the Commissioners and, among other things, the notice describes proposed mining activities at the Johnson Run Road site.
It said that the road surface would not be mined or physically impacted by the mining, adding that the road would be maintained in accordance with a road use and maintenance agreement signed with Athens County Engineer Jeff Maiden.
The notice states that Oxford plans to conduct activities within the right-of-way including spoil, topsoil and equipment storage, pond and/or drainage control construction, excavation or location of an 80-foot highwall, and other activities necessary for coal removal and reclamation.
As of Friday, the appeal was still open in Athens County Common Pleas Court and ongoing.