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State officials to consider public input on coal mine

Athens County residents are hoping to bring a meeting to the surface in order to keep coal mining under the surface.

The Oxford Mining Co. has applied for a state permit to build the “Joy Hollow” surface mine in Bern Township. According to the permit request, the company expects to mine almost 1.4 million tons of coal from a 347-acre area in five years.

Several different groups and individuals, including the coal company, asked the state to hold a public meeting in Athens County pertaining to the permit, said Heidi Hetzel-Evans, a spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

The meeting, which is scheduled for next month, will begin with state officials explaining the permit process, followed by a question and answer session in which the public questions state officials about the mine.

The meeting will then move behind closed doors and a court recorder will transcribe individual comments from members of the public. Until a year and a half ago, these comments were made publically, but under a new Ohio Division of Mining and Reclamation policy, they must be recorded in private.

“The intent of the law (Surface Mining and Reclamation Act) is to have a public meeting and to have a space where ideas can be expressed, both pro and con,” said Sandra Sleight-Brennan, a member of Save Our Rural Environment.

Though the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act states the public has a right to request a hearing, it requires the comment recording part of the hearing to occur in private and be made public two weeks after the meeting.

During that two-week period, citizens may submit follow-up comments, which Brennan said is difficult when many of the initial statements are made privately.

“If (the public Q-and-A session is) not on the record…what good is it?” Brennan said. “Just by not having it in the public space, it’s not transparent.”

State officials will use the transcript of the meetings’ comments while making their decision about whether to grant the permit.

“We do give people an opportunity to give their comment. It’s all to make sure the person making the comment is comfortable,” Hetzel-Evans said. “If it was said and recorded, it will be in the meeting transcript. Transparency is really important here.”

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