Trial underway for mining company accused of water contamination

by Daniel Tyson, originally posted on April 13, 2016


PINEVILLE — Jury selection started Tuesday in a trial involving contaminated drinking water, third-party complaints and a mining company owned by a gubernatorial candidate.

For most of the day, attorneys asked scores potential jurors myriad questions, ranging from their thoughts on mining practices to environmental issues, hoping to find a six-person jury and two alternates.

For the next two to three weeks, the jurors will listen and then determine if mining practices used by Dynamic Energy Inc, and its parent company Mechel Bluestone Inc, owned by Jim Justice, contaminated the drinking water of 16 families in Wyoming County. Justice is a Democratic candidate for governor.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, David Barney, of the Charleston law firm of Barney Thompson PLLC continues Dynamic’s permit stated the company would replace water of surrounding homes if their well water’s quality or quantity was affected.

Barney said the water of families living in Coal Mountain, Reedy Creek and Simon was contaminated by mining activity before December 2014, when the mine was owned by the Russian conglomerate OAO Mechel.

In February 2015, Justice repurchased the mines, restarting operations employing union miners.

In late 2014, Wyoming County Circuit Judge Warren McGraw ordered Dynamic Energy to provide families with bottled drinking water and water from 1,500-gallon tanks for household use.

Dynamic Energy then filed a third-party complaint against Virginia Drilling of Vansant, Va., claiming the water contamination happened as a result of mine blasting conducted by contract drilling company.

In response, it’s been reported, Virginia Drilling filed another complaint against Justice Energy.

In March 2016, McGraw granted the families’ motion to sever the third-party complaints from the initial lawsuit.

The defense could introduce a West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection report which concluded there was no correlation between the mine and those contaminated wells.

The day before the trial, the Justice Companies released a statement stating that it is sympathetic to the needs of the affected families and that it has hauled fresh water to each house since the case was brought against OAO Mechel.

“Unfortunately, these lawyers are greedy and looking for a personal payday,” said Tom Lusk, a spokesman for the company. “West Virginia DEP water scientists have concluded that there is no correlation between this mine and those wells. Anyone with a legitimate issue we will make whole.”

Lusk said the company is fighting the lawsuit in order to keep 150 union miners employed.

The amount of damages sought in the lawsuit was not released Tuesday.

A United Mine Workers of America official described the lawsuit as baseless.

“The way I understand it is that some of the water would have had to travel up hill for the wells to become contaminated,” said Phil Smith, director of government affairs for the UMWA.

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