Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

June 30, 2013

McDowell officials map plan for Coalfields Expressway agreement

By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

WELCH — McDowell County officials say they are getting closer to an agreement that could pave the way for another two miles of construction on the Coalfields Expressway in McDowell County.

However, one potential obstacle to the proposed coal synergy project remains — getting approval from the Environmental Protect-ion Agency.

“What we are trying to do is come up with a plan that meets everybody’s objections,” Richard Browning, executive director of the Coalfields Expressway Authority, said. “We’ve got to get it by the Division of Highways, the federal highway administration, by the DEP and the (Army) Corps of Engineers and then the EPA. We’ve not yet approached the EPA, but all of the other players we’ve mentioned are in deep negotiations. We are very close to getting an agreement.”

The coal synergy plan would save the state $40 million by allowing a private partner coal company to create a rough grade roadbed through the extraction of coal. Browning said the two-mile segment of the roadway would pick up where a 1.4-mile non-paved segment of the expressway ended in 2001.

The work would be completed just south of the proposed interchange of the Coalfields Expressway and King Coal Highway at the Indian Ridge Industrial Park.

“This will save the state $40 million,” Browning said. “We aren’t doing anything except extracting coal as we build the road, and keeping 50 coal miners working longer than they would. The feds are expecting the states and local entities to come up with money on their own. And we’ve got an ace in the hole with coal here.”

Browning said the private partner company, Southern Minerals, is working with the McDowell County Economic Development Authority and the McDowell County Commission on the project.

“The importance of this project is we want to show the regulators that we can mine coal and build the road at the same time, and still meet their rules,” Browning said. “It’s a win-win for everyone.. The county gets flat land out of the deal, the coal operator gets to keep his people working, and the state is getting a highway basically for free.”

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com