- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 11, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A West Virginia coal prep plant faces more than $72,200 in fines for spilling slurry into an eastern Kanawha County creek in February.

The state Department of Environmental Protection announced fines Wednesday against St. Louis-based Patriot Coal. The Feb. 11 spill occurred at Patriot’s Kanawha Eagle Prep Plant in Winifrede.

The company estimated 108,000 gallons of slurry spilled and temporarily blackened Fields Creek, a Kanawha River tributary. The spill impacted about 6 miles of stream. Some material flowed one-half mile into the Kanawha River before dissipating.

West Virginia officials have said ice buildup tore a gasket on a slurry pipeline valve, causing it to malfunction and spill. Regulators saw no biological impact on the stream, department spokesman Tom Aluise said.

A DEP order after the spill temporarily halted work at the plant, except for cleanup. Vacuum trucks sucked up slurry and the company pumped water from the stream near its plant into settling ponds. Patriot used temporary dams to block the creek’s flow.

DEP issued another violation on Feb. 19 when Patriot let blackened water downstream into the Kanawha. Snow melted, raising water levels and stirring up silt in the creek. The creek then overran makeshift dams.

Efforts to contain and remove the slurry wrapped up Feb. 21, according to the DEP’s consent order.

The slurry contains heavy metals and other toxins.

None of the fines are currently being challenged, Aluise said. Patriot originally challenged $21,600 out of the fines, which were announced last month, but dropped its challenge.

Patriot spokeswoman Janine Orf said the company committed to $100,000 in spill prevention enhancements requested by DEP. The company spent more than $1 million to contain the spill, clean Fields Creek and install new monitoring equipment, Orf added.

“The settlement is consistent with Patriot’s focus on implementing preventative measures on a company-wide basis to reduce the likelihood of a similar incident occurring in the future,” Orf said.

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