Federal dollars will pay for flood damage

NEW CUMBERLAND – Five weeks after a freak flood unleashed millions of gallons of water on New Cumberland, the state of West Virginia is poised to make repairs.

The state will bypass its normal procedures in this case because the flooding was caused by a sudden mine blowout, said Mike Richardson, acting chief of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Abandoned Mine Lands.

“We’re doing it under our emergency program, which allows us to do stuff on an expedited basis,” Richardson said, noting the project should be ready to bid in about 10 days.

Still Street resident Paul Miller was digging in his backyard with a backhoe on May 3 when he struck what authorities now believe was an abandoned coal mine. The accident unleashed millions of gallons, by some estimates, that flowed down Rolling Acres Road and flooded the intersection with Hardins Run Road.

The flood did damage to the roadway, the Hardins Run bridge and a city storm sewer on Commerce Street, leaving a deposit of mud and debris. No one was injured, but the flood shocked city officials with its suddenness and power.

In the damage assessment that followed, officials were unsure if the water source was an abandoned mine and, if so, whether it was a clay mine or coal mine and to which company the mine belonged. Money from the federal Abandoned Mine Lands Program is available for the reclamation of coal mines – not clay mines – that were in use prior to 1977, Richardson said.

Subsequent drilling on Miller’s property determined that it was a coal mine, but the state’s voluminous archives are silent on the identity of the responsible mining company, Richardson said.

“We don’t have a lot of information, but it was some sizable workings,” he said.

The state has retained E.L. Robinson Engineering, of Charleston, to design an abatement plan, which will collect the water on Miller’s property and convey it to an existing waterway, most likely Hardins Run, he said.

“It’s a system that will control the drainage should it ever build up again. It won’t ever have a chance to blow out again,” Richardson said. “It actually controls the discharge if the water level within the mine workings builds up.”

The project carries a price tag of about $200,000, although Richardson said he has not yet seen a cost estimate. Flood damage was estimated at $35,000.

New Cumberland Mayor Richard Blackwell, who met with a state mine official on Wednesday, said the state’s repair efforts will include new storm sewers on Commerce Street.

“I have a set of design drawings that covers the full scope of the work,” he said.

Blackwell said the work will include the installation of two new 30-inch pipes at no cost to the city. Before the work begins, the state still must obtain several more rights of entry on private property, Richardson said.