Workers falling from Massey�s Camp Branch?

THE staffing future of a southern West Virginia coal operation hangs in the balance as its owner, Massey Energy, deals with legal issues surrounding the complex.

Donna Schmidt

Spokesman Jeff Gillenwater told local media Thursday that 66 workers, just over half the mine’s 120-person payroll, are currently not working or receiving pay because the producer has requested a stay in federal court for its Camp Branch complex.

Massey asked for the stay following a decision this week that withdrew the valley fill permits for Camp Branch and three other operations – Black Castle, Republic No. 2 and Laxaire – causing the former to idle down.

In the meantime, local media reporters said Massey divisions Aracoma, Elk Run, Alex Energy and Independence Coal filed a motion Tuesday to stay the ruling while it appeals.

Gillenwater confirmed that the Branch Camp workers are not laid off at this time, but added that "if the company does not get a stay, then another 55 employees will no longer be active workers”. The individuals are still receiving health insurance benefits and the company said it hopes to find opportunities for the miners at its other operations.

The ruling is the latest step in a two-year legal battle with a collection of environmental groups including the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, all of which fought against the US Army Corps of Engineers for failing to “properly enforce the Clean Water Act and National Environment Policy Act”, the reports said. The West Virginia Coal Association and Massey Coal both intervened in the legal proceedings and provided testimony last year.

The stays Massey requested will be in effect for both the March and April rulings, pending appeal so that it, according to a statement, may “avoid the harm which the intervenor-defendants, their employees and the public (in the form of lost tax revenues, indirect employment and material, equipment and service sales) will suffer during the pendency of an appeal".

If extra steps need to be taken, the companies told the media they would seek a limited stay of orders only for the application regarding use of valley fills that already have water buried.

“This will lessen, but may not avoid, all of the harms that will occur during the pendency of an appeal,” the coal companies’ legal council said.

“Perhaps, more importantly, it will permit the recall of 66 employees who were sent home from the Aracoma Camp Branch mine on April 9, 2007, as a result of the April 6, 2007 order.”