A Wyoming County judge will force the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to require a Patriot Coal subsidiary to provide emergency and permanent water replacement for 27 families whose well water has been contaminated by mining activities.

Circuit Court Judge Warren R. McGraw issued an order Wednesday stating expert testimony showed a coal slurry impoundment operated by Eastern Associated Coal LLC at its Kopperston No. 4 Mine contaminated well water for families living downstream of Clear Fork Creek in Clear Fork.

McGraw has ordered the DEP to require Eastern to provide emergency water in 5 gallon jugs within 24 hours and temporary water in 1,500 gallon tanks within 72 hours.

The order further requires the coal company to provide temporary water until a permanent replacement can be made.

Twenty-seven families filed this litigation after making complaints to the DEP under the Surface Coal Mine Reclamation Act. DEP water sampling at that time, between 2011 and 2013, indicated their water had been contaminated, but the investigation was closed.

During the hearing, DEP Environmental Specialist Dustin Johnson testified that water sampling during the initial investigation revealed contaminants exceeded both Environmental Protection Agency standards for drinking water and natural levels for the area.

He also testified petitioners William and Regina Cook's well water contained more than 40 times the amount of iron allowed under EPA standards. Other families involved in the suit have 30 times, 10 times and five times the amount allowed by EPA standards.

Other tests revealed elevated levels of arsenic, lead and manganese.

Johnson testified that he believed the well water was contaminated due to a neighboring abandoned slate dump next to the impoundment, not the impoundment itself.

Dr. D. Scott Simonton, an environmental engineering professor at Marshall University, testified that sulfate, iron and manganese levels in samples fall in line with what could be expected to escape from a mining impoundment.

Ultimately he said both sites were likely involved in the contamination, but the coal slurry impoundment was a much more significant threat to groundwater than the slate dump. He also said he saw areas of leaching around the impoundment.

David R. Barney Jr., the Charleston-based attorney representing the Wyoming County families stated, "We certainly are pleased by the prospect that these 27 families will receive replacement water, and we hope, given the overwhelming evidence in the case, there will not be an appeal so that these families can receive the water that they so desperately need for their basic needs. However, we are confident, based upon the evidence, that the Court's Order will withstand scrutiny in any appeal."

Calls placed to representatives from Eastern Associated Coal LLC were not immediately returned Thursday.

— Email: splummer@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @Sarah_E_Plummer

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