Residents in Eastern Kentucky whose homes were flooded in 2010 have filed suit against the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. They say the flooding was caused by an unreclaimed surface mine site, and the state allowed the mine operator to violate the law.

Most people living on Harless Creek in Pike County lost everything when the area flooded two years ago. They say the flood was mostly caused by runoff from a nearby surface mine where  the mining company hadn't followed state law and replaced soil and vegetation on the site.

One hundred and sixty residents settled a lawsuit against the mine operator—Cambrian Coal—in March. But now they’re also suing the state for allowing the company to cause the dangerous conditions.

Prestonsburg attorney Ned Pillersdorf is handling the case. He alleges the company was mining for a year and a half without a permit.

“The inspector and cabinet, in our view, took the approach that, no permit, no reclamation, no problem,” Pillersdorf said. “They were basically indifferent to the very dangerous conditions above where my clients lived.”

The site’s inspector—Robert Stapleton—is also named in the lawsuit. Pillersdorf says he thinks what went on in Harless Creek is the sign of a bigger problem among state mine inspectors.

“We think this is basically a culture among the state inspectors that they don’t consider it a public safety issue when they allow unreclaimed strip mine conditions to exist, and they seem to act surprised when these communities get wiped out,” he said.

A spokesman for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet said he couldn’t comment on the lawsuit.