The Virginia Department of Mine, Minerals and Energy has denied A&G Coal Corp. a permit to operate a surface mine on Ison Rock Ridge, and the coal company has appealed the decision.
The proposed mine, on 1,230 acres near the town of Appalachia in Wise County, has been controversial since the permit was first filed six years ago.
The permit application was submitted in March 2007, according to the department's records, and was technically approved in May 2010. But certain bonds and fees were due to the Division of Mined Land Reclamation by November 2012, and certain violation issues had to be resolved by that time.
The state department then extended the deadline to February 2013 for the company, which is based in Wise. Va., and is a subsidiary of Roanoke-based Southern Coal Corp.
In February, the permit was administratively denied because the bonds and fees had not been submitted and because the corporation had outstanding cessation orders listed in the federal Office of Surface Mining's Applicant Violator System, according to the state department. The company had until Feb. 13 to have its violations, bonds and fees resolved, agency documents show.
An informal hearing was held this week and the company submitted an appeal of the denial, said Michael Abbott, a spokesman for the state department. He said about a dozen people showed up for the meeting and about half of them talked during a public comment portion about the agency's decision.
"The hearing officer has 30 days to deny," the appeal, Abbott said.
Neither A&G Coal Corp. nor its parent company had any comment on the permit denial or the appeal.
Barbara Altizer, executive director of Eastern Coal Council, said it's premature to comment on the decision until the DMME has a chance to consider the appeal and respond.
But, she said, any coal jobs created, like those for miners who could work at the proposed mine site, would be a "positive impact for the region."
The denial was met with approval from local environmental groups.
"We stand behind DMME all the way on this one," said Sam Broach, president of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and a third-generation miner. "If DMME will just hold their ground, we'll keep Ison Rock Ridge."
He said surface mining the ridge would destroy homes and waterways under it, as well as the natural habitat of wildlife on the ridge.
"It couldn't mean more for the people living under the threat of this massive mountaintop removal mine," said Matt Wasson, program director for Appalachian Voices. "It's directly above a whole bunch of homes - they've been keeping an eye on it every day."
He said he would characterize the reaction as "less celebratory than a real sense of relief."
"The town of Appalachia and others are literally just surrounded by mountaintop mining," Wasson said. "This was literally the last ridge standing."
He said he thinks the state agency did the right thing in denying the mine after two years of inactivity from A&G Coal.
"We're hopeful the DMME will stick to its guns and not go with A&G on this appeal," he said.
Broach said his group is cautiously optimistic.
"We've had our bubble busted before," he said. "We're excited, but with our guard up."