Environment

State regulators are continuing to monitor an Eastern Kentucky creek that ran red due to mine discharge over the weekend, though they say it wasn’t responsible for dead fish and turtles reported in the area.

Kentucky Energy and Environment spokesman John Mura said mine activity at Hardshell Tipples in Letcher County overflowed a retention pond on Friday, sending the iron-laced water into Pine Creek. The state Division of Natural Resources issued three violations to the company, Mura said, and is continuing to monitor the site to see if the company is in compliance with state regulations that prohibit discharging mine waste into water supplies.

Tarence Ray with nonprofit Appalachian Voices said he alerted authorities when he heard about the spill. He said a reddish stain was visible flowing out of Pine Creek into the North Fork of the Kentucky River, and he took pictures and video documenting dead fish and turtles on the riverbanks. He also measured pH and conductivity, and found the creek was relatively acidic.

A dead turtle on the banks of Pine Creek.Tarence Ray/Appalachian Voices

A dead turtle on the banks of Pine Creek.

But Mura said the state doesn’t believe the spill caused any damage to aquatic life in Pine Creek. The company is treating the spill by putting soda ash into the retention pond.

A security guard who answered the phone at Hardshell Tipples’ mine wouldn’t comment, and neither would Whitesburg attorney Calvin Tackett, who is listed as the organization’s president on business filings with the Kentucky Secretary of State.

An unnamed company official told WYMT-TV in Hazard that the leakage was a “onetime problem.”

But for area residents like Ray, the frustration is that the damage to Pine Creek is done — even if the spill is an isolated event and the company is held accountable for its actions.

“This isn’t something that is fixable just immediately,” Ray said. “It’s just another one of those things that contributes to the whole legacy costs that these communities have to bear over time.”

Mura said as of yesterday, Hardshell Tipples still wasn’t in compliance with state regulations. He said as of Monday afternoon, inspectors were still on site and monitoring the situation.

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL. She is also Enterprise Editor.