Mining Firm Must Defend Suit for Clean Water

     (CN) – Two property owners may sue the coal mining company that contaminated their groundwater wells and then trucked in bottled water rather than provide them with a permanent clean water source, a federal judge ruled.
     Jennie McCracken and Russell Daugherty are adjacent property owners in Hurley, Virginia, a small town on the border of Kentucky.
     Both plaintiffs relied exclusively on groundwater wells on their property to provide them with clean water until 2006.
     In 2006, the Black Diamond Company, which operates an underground coal mine in Buchanan County, Virginia, expanded its mining operation and mined the area directly underneath Daugherty’s property, approximately 500 to 1000 feet from the wells.
     Shortly thereafter, the plaintiffs complained to the Virginia Division of Mined Land Reclamation (DMLR) that the mining operation affected the quality of their water.
     Black Diamond drilled a new well for Daugherty in 2007, but the water was red in color. They drilled a new well for McCracken as well and installed filtration systems for both plaintiffs, but in 2010, the DMLR found that the water was unfit for consumption “primarily because of the high levels of iron and other metals, as well as coliform contamination,” according to the judgment.
     Since then, Black Diamond has been supplying the plaintiffs with bottled water. However, plaintiffs sued the company in 2011 for not providing them with a permanent replacement of their water supply, as ordered by the DMLR.
     U.S. District Judge James Jones denied Black Diamond’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s action.
     “As discussed, the May 2008 Water Replacement Orders directed Black Diamond to permanently replace the plaintiffs’ water supplies within twenty-one days. The new water supplies were to be of equivalent quantity and quality as the plaintiffs’ pre-mining supplies. Additionally, Black Diamond’s surface mining permit requires Black Diamond to permanently replace any water supply that is contaminated, diminished, or interrupted by its mining operation,” Jones said.
     He continued: “While the plaintiffs concede that Black Diamond drilled new wells and installed sand filtration systems, they allege that the water replacements provided are of insufficient quality. Thus, taking the plaintiffs’ allegations regarding Black Diamond’s requirements and its failure to provide adequate, permanent replacements as true, the plaintiffs have stated valid claims upon which relief could be granted.”

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