- Associated Press - Thursday, May 5, 2016

PINEVILLE, W.Va. (AP) - A West Virginia jury will decide whether a coal company owned by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Justice contaminated the drinking water wells of residents in Wyoming County.

According to local media outlets, the jury is scheduled to begin deliberations Thursday in the case against Justice-controlled companies Dynamic Energy Inc. and Mechel Bluestone Inc. Justice wasn’t personally named as a defendant in the case.

Fifteen families who live near Dynamic Energy’s surface mining complex at Coal Mountain said the operation contaminated their wells to the point that the water is no longer safe to drink. They are seeking out-of-pocket costs and damages in the case.

If the jury rules in their favor, the families could seek a court order to force the companies to provide long-term treatment to clean up their wells.

“It’s not illegal to mine coal,” the residents’ lead lawyer, Kevin Thompson, said in court on Wednesday. “What is illegal is not to try to protect (the water), to ignore your permit.”

During the trial, Billy Shelton, a lawyer for Dynamic Energy and Mechel Bluestone, told jurors the residents had no case.

“It’s almost like a recipe or a script for a case,” he said. “We don’t have to prove innocence. They have to prove that we caused these problems.”

A spokesman for Justice’s gubernatorial campaign did not respond to several requests in recent weeks for comment on the trial, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.

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