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Casselman coal mine wins final approval

HAGERSTOWN — Maryland environmental regulators said Friday they have issued the final state permit for an underground coal mine that would tunnel beneath the Casselman River near Grantsville, upstream of a popular trout-fishing section of the Western Maryland waterway.

Project opponents said they will challenge the Department of the Environment’s decision favoring mine operator Maryland Energy Resources LLC, a subsidiary of Joseph Peles Coal Co. of Indiana, Pa.

Approval of the water discharge permit followed the Department of Natural Resources’ withdrawal of an objection that water pumped from the mine into the river could harm two state-endangered species downstream — the hellbender salamander and stonecat catfish.

To address that concern, the permit limits the discharge to 144,000 gallons of water a day, less than 30 percent of the 500,000 gallons the company sought. Any increase in the permitted discharge rate would require further DNR evaluation of the potential harm to the endangered species.

The permit also requires continuous monitoring of the river’s pH and flow, hourly temperature readings from May 15 to Sept. 30, and quarterly biomonitoring. To avoid acid mine drainage, which can kill virtually all aquatic life, the mine must be designed and operated in such a manner that water cannot passively flow out of the mine.

The conditions didn’t satisfy opposition leader Steven Putman, of Glenelg, whose family owns 48 acres near the mine site. Putman said his group has twice documented sediment runoff into the river from the company’s preliminary construction work.

“Clearly, this issue warrants immediate action on the State’s behalf to protect this river,” Putman said in a letter Friday to Department of the Environment Secretary Shari T. Wilson. “As we have stated before in previous correspondence with your department, it is our assertion that this permitee lacks the experience and stewardship commitment to protect the river from the adverse affects of their mining operation.”

Joseph Peles didn’t immediately return a telephone call from the Associated Press.

The mine would extract an estimated 360,000 tons of coal annually for 20 years from deposits beneath about 3,000 acres south of Grantsville. It would be Maryland’s largest working deep mine.

Peles said previously it could take three to five months from the issuance of the permit to the start of mining operations.