Destiny of Dysart still unknown

by Laura Withers
City Editor

The feud over the fate of coal deposits beneath Dysart Woods continues as another decision was made affirming the suitability of the land for mining.

On June 13, the 7th district appellate court upheld a decision made by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio Reclamation Commission saying the No. 8 coal seam, which runs through Dysart Woods, was exempt from the land’s unsuitable process, said Russ Gibson, spokesman for the ODNR.

“This particular case did not examine the unique characteristics of Dysart Woods itself,” Gibson said. “It simply looked at one narrow parameter of law.”

In order to proceed with the mining, however, the Ohio Valley Coal Company must attain a permit from ODNR. OVCC’s permit application is currently pending, but Gibson said he does not anticipate it to be acted upon any time soon.

OVCC Public Affairs Manager Steven Cohen said the company views the decision as an affirmation of their right to the coal reserve — not a green light to begin mining.

“We don’t know for certain when they (ODNR) will complete the (permit application) process,” Cohen said. “Once we get approval then we will decide how soon to begin mining.”

In response to the boiling controversy that has ensued about land in Dysart Woods, OVCC owner Robert Murray announced in November that if a permit is obtained, OVCC will forgo using the traditional long-wall mining techniques, which might cause damage to the forest. By saying he will not use this technique of mining, Murray hopes to calm citizens’ concerns about the vitality of Dysart trees and — as he stated in a news release — leave a positive legacy for the citizens of eastern Ohio.

But community groups, such as The Buckeye Forest Council and Dysart Defenders, are not satisfied with Murray’s response. Chad Kister, coordinator of Dysart Defenders, said their ultimate goal is to prevent the mining of land underneath Dysart Woods for all time.

In the past the ODNR held public hearings to receive input on the issue. So far though, the controversy around this unique situation has not been taken into account in the courtroom, Gibson said.

“The status of Dysart Woods, with respect to whether it’s an old growth forest, was never an issue taken into account,” he said. “(The court of appeals) looked at one aspect of law and was not asked to look at any other issues.”

Kister said the ODNR is making it impossible for groups such as Dysart Defenders to reach their goal of saving the land from being subsided by mining practices.

“I think (the ODNR) went against the law and against legal precedence,” Kister said. “What (this decision) does is make it virtually impossible to declare any land unsuitable (for mining).”

After falling short in their second appeal, The Buckeye Forest Council and Dysart Defenders have decided to take their case to the Ohio Supreme Court. This will be their last chance at victory, Kister said.

“We are on a desperate fundraising campaign to appeal this to Ohio Supreme Court,” he said. “If we don’t get the resources we need, it might just be too late.”