MORGANTOWN -- Billionaire coal company and resort owner Jim Justice is in a war of words with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection over an illegally built dam at a gated golf course community, a 17-foot-high structure that regulators say presents a potentially deadly flooding hazard to hundreds of drivers.
The Beckley Register-Herald first reported the dispute, citing a recent letter Justice sent to property owners. He said the DEP plans to order that the Mallard Lake Dam at The Resort at Glade Springs be raised 40 feet, along with the main access road to the 600-home Glade Springs Village.
Justice says the project could cost $9.2 million and could prompt his company, resort owner Emco Glade Springs Hospitality, to transfer responsibility for the dam and road to the Property Owners Association.
"That is a choice of last resort for us," Justice wrote, "as we would prefer to advance our common interest and together convince WVDEP to abandon its current imprudent action."
The DEP says it never issued an order to elevate the dam, nor did it estimate any costs. Rather, spokeswoman Kathy Cosco says the DEP gave Emco multiple options last year to bring the dam into compliance with state law. That could include raising, lowering or removing it.
"We don't dictate to them what they should do," said Brian Long, manager of the state's Dam Safety Program.
A January 2012 letter from DEP's Division of Water and Waste Management declares the dam subject to the Dam Control and Safety Act and orders Emco either to apply to have it certified or to submit engineering plans to change or remove it. The state also demanded emergency-response and maintenance plans.
All were due in April 2012, but Long says Emco has yet to comply.
Justice, who hired his own engineers to review what his letter calls "frivolous" DEP demands, did not return a telephone message from The Associated Press.
His letter says that if Glade Springs were to close the road, drivers would have to use the rear entrance, Pluto Road. Justice contends that would mean a 30-minute delay and more traffic congestion.
The property owners' group didn't immediately return telephone or email messages.
Justice also told the newspaper "many agencies in the state target successful people and hinder business opportunities." He said "ridiculous, absurd actions have driven away many good people" and deterred others from locating here.
"Hiding behind this as a safety matter is absurd," he told the paper, and "trying to scare people when they know better is morally wrong."