OU continues effort to preserve Dysart Woods

by Erica Bush
Staff Writer

Almost 15 years after the Ohio Valley Coal Company approached Ohio University about mining under Dysart Woods, OU and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources are a few steps closer to seeing that the forest is protected.

The university was approached by the Ohio Valley Coal Company in 1988 when they first had the idea to mine portions of the woods, said Chad Kister, Dysart Defenders Coordinator.

At a Dysart Defenders protest last November, OU President Robert Glidden said the university had little power in protecting the woods, because they own the land but not the mining rights.

Since then the Ohio Department of Mineral Resources, a division of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources working closely with OU officials, has found more than 100 legal violations the Ohio Valley Coal Company would commit if issued the permit, Kister said. Violations include undermining several perennial streams where fish live.

But, these “legal violations” are really more of the ODNR asking the Ohio Valley Coal Company to provide more information and clarification as to exactly how they will mine the land, said John Burns, OU’s director of legal affairs.

Under this regulation from ODNR, the Ohio Valley Coal Company must provide ways to maintain water runoff as well as information on how the mining will save water in the woods. Some people, such as Kister, said they have not done that, Burns said.

But the company has provided some information, Burns said. In their permit application the company did indicate that they are going to try approaches other than long wall mining – digging under the forest – to extract the coal. This hypothetical option would mean less risk of harming the woods. From the university’s standpoint this change would be positive.

 “If the university is satisfied, and the experts are too, then we will not appeal (the permit),” he said.

In addition to scientific experts giving counsel to the university, OU officials also hired an Athens environmental attorney, Robert Shostak, last fall.

OU is finally making strides in working to protect the Dysart Woods, Kister said.

It could be nine months to a year before a decision or compromise is reached. But Burns said the university will continue to work with counsel and scientific experts, even though no public hearings are scheduled at this time.

Kister said he thinks the university should commit to appealing the Ohio Valley Coal Company’s permit, and do it soon.