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The Wolf Creek Environmental Trust

The Story of the Wolf Creek Environmental Trust

In the headwaters of the Wolf Creek Watershed lies a water quality impact that few may be familiar with, the Summerlee Gob Pile. One of the main tributaries of Wolf Creek begins at the base of a gob pile that is approximately one hundred feet deep and spread over a substantial portion of the site (approximately 72 acres). Water percolating through the gob pile accumulates contaminants known as acid mine drainage (AMD). Prior to 1980, Summerlee was owned by the New River Company. New River was owned by Western Pocahontas Company, which was later purchased by the CSX Corporation and its subsidiaries (collectively the CSX entities). New River’s name was later changed to Mountain Laurel Resources Company (Mountain Laurel). In 1978 the State of West Virginia (the State) required Mountain Laurel to install a treatment plant to treat and mitigate the AMD. The water treatment system was subject to a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit obtained by New River.

In 1980 MMI purchased a portion of the surface rights of Summerlee from Mountain Laurel. The sale included a preparation plant, a series of ponds, the gob pile, and the water treatment system. Despite repeated notice, neither MMI nor Law applied for an NPDES permit authorizing AMD discharges. MMI and Law failed to operate the water treatment system effectively, allowing AMD discharges on at least sixteen occasions between March 1987 and November 1991. Between 1984 and 1993, the State and the Town of Fayetteville (the Town) filed a series of civil actions in state court against Mountain Laurel, the CSX entities, MMI and Law.  As a result of the acid mine drainage, Wolf Creek, which had previously been a trout stream, was taken off of the trout stocking list in the early 1990’s.

In 1998, a major settlement was reached with CSX, the parent company of New River Co/Mountain Laurel Resources, regarding the water pollution caused from the Summerlee coal refuse pile.  As part of that settlement, $375,000 was awarded to the State for restoring the Wolf Creek watershed.  This money was placed in a trust, called the Wolf Creek Environmental Trust (WCET).

The Wolf Creek Environmental Trust was created after complex litigation, spanning almost two decades, concerning the environmental cleanup of a 241 acre site in Fayette County, West Virginia .  The trust was created to invest and administer the Summerlee site; including helping pay/defray the long-term costs of treating the AMD.  The Plateau Action Network (PAN), a local watershed group and non-profit organization, agreed to be the primary local sponsor for the WCET.  Since that time, water quality has been monitored throughout the entire 10-mile length of Wolf Creek.

Although it is unclear when the adverse impacts on the water quality of Wolf Creek were first documented (sometime in the late 1970’s), it is clear that the water quality of Wolf Creek has been degraded over time, primarily due to the acid mine drainage (AMD) from past mining practices at its headwaters.  Land reclamation was completed in 1996 and involved refuse re-grading, placement of soil over the refuse material and re-vegetation of the site.  The work also included controlling surface drainage for the 72-acre gob pile.  The work succeeded in reducing some of the infiltration of surface water into the refuse, but did not address the treatment of the mine water.  Consequently, the acid mine drainage problem continues at the site.  In 2002 the entire main stem of Wolf Creek was listed for biological impairments by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, according to section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act. In 2004 Wolf Creek was listed on the 303(d) list as being impaired by fecal coliform bacteria and having conditions not allowable (CAN) for aquatic biological life.  In 2006, Wolf Creek was listed again for iron, aluminum, fecal coliform bacteria, and CAN-biological impairments.   As a result, Wolf Creek is no longer used as the primary public water source. Water quality discharging from several seeps located near the toe of the refuse pile is extremely poor, with an average pH below 3.0 and containing large quantities of heavy metals.  Restoration and treatment of the site will be an extensive and long-term endeavor.  The importance and need to clean up Wolf Creek is evident by the 2001 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that was signed by PAN, 14 local, state and federal agencies, as well as US Congressman Rahall to clean up the Wolf Creek watershed.  Improving water quality so these streams are once again clean and can be removed from the 303(d) list is a primary goal of the Wolf Creek Watershed-Based Plan.