The DEP says residents living below the Brushy Fork impoundment are not at risk, but citizens are skeptical.
The Brushy Fork dam isn’t the only impoundment environmentalists are concerned about. The Shumate Coal Impoundment sits about 400 yards from Marsh Fork Elementary school and can hold almost 3 billion gallons of coal waste
Judy Bonds is with Coal River Mountain Watch.
"We not only have the Brushy Fork dam to be concerned with, we have the dam above Marsh Fork Elementary school," she said.
The Brushy Fork impoundment was recently cited because there was too much moisture that could compromise the stability. Mother Nature has dumped piles of snow in the region and Bonds is concerned about the stability of all the dams in the area, especially the Shumate Coal Impoundment, also owned by Massey Energy.
"The DEP reassuring the citizens that live below this dam that it’s safe does not reassure at all," Bonds said.
"In fact that the communities have figured out that the West Virginia DEP is very pro-coal and we just can’t believe them."
Marsh Fork Elementary has been a center of controversy for more than five years. Former educators want a new school, if only to remove the kids from the tug-of-war between coal operators and environmentalists.
Bonds says the proximity to the coal operations make it a dangerous environment for the students.
"I am very worried about the children going to Marsh Fork Elementary," she said. "Particulary this time of the year when we have a lot of rain a lot of moisture that would weaken that dam, I am very worried about them."
Since the School Board Authority was created in 1989 by the West Virginia Legislature, $1.4 billion has been invested into school construction throughout West Virginia.
This includes 31 new high schools, 27 new middle schools, and more than 54 new primary or K-8 schools. In the past four years, 2 new schools were built in Raleigh County, where Marsh Fork is located.
The Raleigh County Board of Education requested a new Marsh Fork Elementary school from the West Virginia School Building Authority last year – but has not received funding.
Executive Director of the SBA Mark Manchin says without legislation, no new construction will be possible.
"If we can’t sell bonds then we I can’t tell you right now we won’t be able to build any new schools," he said. "Marsh Fork or any of the other new schools in question in Hancock, in Marion County, Preston County, Gilmore county, and Hampshire County and throughout the state of West Virginia."
"Without the legislation that gives us the authority to sell those bonds we won’t be able to build any new schools.
This year there were requests for 34 projects that would total $244 million.
"We try to determine what is the most worthy the most critical need," Manchin said. "Southern West Virginia surely there are a number of counties that have submitted projects to us Mercer, Monroe, Raleigh, of course Marsh Fork Elementary has been submitted as part of Raleigh County submittal."
But he says it’s too soon to tell which projects will be a priority.
"It’s hard to speculate as to how that’s going to work," Manchin said. "We are reviewing it literally as we speak.
That’s the way it works our staff goes and reviews all the projects and we try to make a recommendation to the authority in April."
Manchin says the office is still gathering information on the Marsh Fork project. He did say that a safety violation at the Brushy Fork impoundment in Raleigh County makes the situation more urgent.
"The first thing we look at is health and safety and how the projects will impact the health and safety," he said. "Unfortunately there is only so much money to go around."
Although the safety violation involves a different dam than the one above Marsh Fork, Bonds says she still hopes it’s a wake-up call to state officials.
"It’s very frustrating and hurtful for the people who live this in this area that knows there are millions of dollars of taxes that come out of this area and they are giving nothing back to the children in this area," Bonds said.
Gov. Joe Manchin, Mark Manchin’s cousin, introduced the bill that would basically free up $130 million for construction. It’s currently in Senate Finance Committee. Mark Manchin expects it to reach the floor sometime next week.