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Ky. mine flooding suit settled

Friday - 3/9/2012, 4:08pm  ET

By DYLAN LOVAN
Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A Kentucky mining company settled a lawsuit Friday that blamed mountaintop mining for stoking a 2010 flood that ravaged a tiny Appalachian community.

The lawsuit filed in August 2010 in Pike County said rainwater runoff from Cambrian Coal Corp.'s surface mine during a July 17, 2010, storm turned nearby Harless Creek into a "raging river." The flooding engulfed homes and carried away cars and other property.

Ned Pillersdorf, a Prestonsburg attorney representing the plaintiffs, said the terms of the settlement reached Friday with Cambrian Coal are confidential. A trial had been scheduled for Monday.

No one answered the phone Friday at Cambrian's office in Belcher, Ky.

Residents argued that the surface mining activity on the mountaintop, which stripped away trees, topsoil and vegetation, caused "excessive water flow that resulted in damages upon all of the plaintiffs' property," the lawsuit said.

A hydrological analysis by a Virginia consulting firm said mining in the area increased the peak stormwater runoff by 44 percent during the rains. The study said the company's mining and failure to restore the area directly caused the increased flow of water down the valley and into Harless Creek.

Video posted on YouTube by a resident during the storms showed cars and a shed being carried away by the creek, which had swelled into a swift-moving muddy river.

"It rained some but not that long and it didn't rain that hard," said Harold Thacker, a lifelong resident of the area who filmed the flooding. "That water came up like a tidal wave."

The 2010 storm caused flooding throughout Pike County, killing two people and knocking out water service to thousands of residents. Federal officials declared a major disaster in the area.

Pillersdorf said Cambrian's mining permit had expired the year before and state officials had not enforced reclamation laws that require mining companies to return the land to its original shape, plant trees and restore vegetation. Flyover video recorded by Pillersdorf showed a brown, treeless landscape directly above the Harless Creek area after the flood.

Pillersdorf said he has three other pending eastern Kentucky cases that are similar to the Pike County suit, in which surface mining is blamed for causing or intensifying flooding.

"I do not think it's a coincidence that the worst damage occurs in areas directly below unreclaimed strip mines," he said.

The Harless Creek suit also originally named a second mining, company, AEP Kentucky Coal, but residents settled with AEP in October, Pillersdorf said. The residents had sued both companies for damage compensation, punitive fines and the replacement of water supplies.

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(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Tags: kentuckyfloodlawsuit