MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The U.S. Department of Labor wants a federal judge to order the immediate shutdown of a potentially dangerous West Virginia coal slurry impoundment it says hasn't been certified by a professional engineer for two years.
In a filing in federal court, U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld argued Thursday that Energy Marketing Co. Inc. and owner Dominick LaRosa of Potomac, Md., are flouting federal law, ignoring violations and fines, and putting the public at risk.
The 101 North Hollow Coal Refuse Impoundment is near Century in Barbour County and is associated with the non-producing Century 101 mine. The Mine Safety and Health Administration has labeled it "high hazard," meaning a failure would likely cause fatalities.
MSHA says it was not certified for structural integrity as required by law in either 2011 or 2012. MSHA records also show EMCI has operated the mine and impoundment since Jan. 1, 2009, and has been cited for problems about two dozen times.
LaRosa didn't immediately return telephone messages, and his legal team has yet to file a response with the court.
"While there is no known or obvious danger posed by the dam at this time, the continued failure to have the dam examined by a professional engineer means that there may be a problem that MSHA has not identified," Ihlenfeld wrote in a memorandum supporting the Labor Department's request for a preliminary injunction.
"MSHA's inspections are not an acceptable substitute for the certification of an independent professional engineer," he added. Those engineers must analyze a full year's worth of records for an impoundment, then certify whether the work was done in accordance with approved plans.
Ihlenfeld is the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia.
"MSHA inspectors generally are not qualified to perform such a review and their inspections are generally focused on conditions as they exist at that time," Ihlenfeld wrote. "EMCI and LaRosa's continued failure to comply with the certification requirements hampers MSHA's ability to evaluate ... and adequately protect the public and the environment from this potentially deadly hazard."
The Coal Impoundment Location & Information System says the dam has a maximum capacity of about 505 million gallons of soupy gray slurry, or the equivalent of about 765 Olympic-sized swimming pools.