WV DEP, OSM investigating alkaline iron seepage in Boone County
Former miner Stanley "Goose" Stewart is concerned about the condition of Little White Oak Creek in Boone County.
April 23, 2012 ·
The federal Office of Surface Mining is trying to determine the source of alkaline iron in the Little White Oak Creek of the Coal River in Boone County. The creek is about a mile and a half up a hollow off of Rt. 3.
Locals recommend taking an ATV to get to Little White Oak. In the woods of Boone County, an orange-red residue is coating the bed of a creek that winds along the trail.
“On this left side where it’s coming out,” Stanley “Goose” Stewart says as he points to the ground, “on up through there you can’t see now for the glare but that’s clear water.”
Along the way, it’s clear the trail attracted ATV riders. The dirt road was speckled with muddy corduroyed areas.
Even on a cool Spring morning, a foul sulfur-like smell stings the nostrils.
Stewart, or “Goose” as he prefers, says he’s always had a love for the outdoors.
“I haven’t seen a creek like this since I was a kid back in the 60’s and
early 70’s before they had any laws and the creeks ran red," Goose
said. "Growing up around then any creek that was running red, it was
He’s referring to the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of
1977, often referred to as SMACRA. It’s meant to protect America’s
waterways and the environment from mining activity.
Little White Oak is just outside of Raleigh County along Coal River, a place mottled with underground and surface mines. Goose worked underground for more than 34 years.
“All my years of working underground that’s how I knew this was mine water," he said. "I’ve seen a lot of it smelt it and worked in it and you have a lot of times a natural underground stream running in a seam of coal and once it’s been mined out I guess it makes an old sulfur like water or whatever and it stinks and turns things red underground.”
“It could possibly be some long-wall panels that have been mined out and the roof fell in and filled with water and somehow it’s making it’s way and seeping out of the ground into this creek.”
You might remember Goose as a victim of the Upper Big Branch Disaster. He worked at the mine when it exploded and actually performed CPR on his co-workers in vain. He says spending time in the woods is therapeutic but seeing the damage brings more heartache.
“It was hurtful," Goose said. "I hadn’t thought about the creeks flowing red in forever. It was a memory that was gone and when I saw this I immediately flashed back when my daddy used to take me for rides we go up in Cabin Creek and Paint Creek and up in Sang Creek everything was just red - the rocks were red, no fish, nothing in the water.”
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has been investigating the area for almost 8 months. The DEP did find an alkaline iron discharge seeping into the creek.
In a statement the DEP said, "We have been aware of this and have been investigating the situation. We have not secured evidence that is sufficiently conclusive to support enforcement action."
Earlier this month the DEP requested technical assistance from the Charleston Field Office of Surface Mining.
The agencies are working together to find the source and cause of the smelly orange-red residue.
“I’m not trying to cause trouble," Goose said, "I just want to see it fixed and they know how."