Seal Breaks at Abandoned W.Va. Mine, Floods Yards, Highway

February 14, 2008

The earthen seal at a former underground coal mine in Delbarton, W. Va., sprung a leak, sending thousands of gallons of water through the yards of several homes and onto a state highway, officials said Tuesday.

The seal was designed to allow a controlled release of water from the workings, said Randy Huffman, deputy secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection. Apparently the end of a drainage pipe was crushed, causing water to build up in the mine and break the seal. Huffman estimated the flow at 2,000 to 3,000 gallons per minute.

The mine was formerly operated by Flex Enterprises and stopped working in 1990 or 1991, Huffman said.

Once the water drains and the flow is controlled, Huffman said the main job will be repairing erosion and the seal. Because the bond was released on the mine in 1994, there’s no responsible party for the repairs and Huffman said it’s uncertain who will fix the damage.

Traffic on state Route 65 was reduced to one lane until the Division of Highways can install a 5-foot pipe to divert the water to a nearby creek, spokesman Brent Walker said. Water is flowing onto Route 65, but doesn’t appear to have damaged the road.

“It looks like it’s a hard rain that continues to come down,” he said. “It looks like there’s a good bit of water.”

The flood also forced the evacuation of two or three homes, state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training Administrator Terry Farley said. The agency was investigating to make sure no active mines in the area were affected.

While abandoned coal mines often fill with water, Farley said such accidents are uncommon.

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