Commissioners consider road request

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK The Belmont County Board of Commissioners is considering a request by Murray Energy and American Energy Corporation to vacate a road to establish a mining refuse site for Century Mine. Jim Turner, senior vice president of Murray Energy and American Energy Corp., presents a map of the site and the potential disposal area.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The Belmont County Board of Commissioners heard from concerned residents as it considers a request from Murray Energy Corp. to vacate a 1.1-mile stretch of Mayhugh Road in Wayne Township.

Due to an illness, Belmont County Engineer Terry Lively could not be present at the meeting, but William Eddy, drafting technician, said Lively has recommended against commissioners vacating the road because of objections from Wayne Township officials.

Commissioners will address the matter again next week, to allow Lively to review the information from Wednesday’s public hearing.

Mark S. Stemm, an attorney with Porter Wright, representing Murray Energy subsidiary American Energy Corp., pointed out that a group of about 15 property owners in Wayne Township, including American Energy, submitted the petition to vacate the road. He said commissioners are authorized to take such action in the interest of public convenience or public welfare, and added vacating the road would not leave any property owner landlocked.

“There is a legitimate public interest in the utilization of undeveloped property by private individuals for the public welfare of this county,” Stemm said. “This road really isn’t used by anyone other than a few mine employees to get to the front gate of the company. It has a long history of being associated as a mine road. … It’s certainly not a vital pathway for anyone.”

Stemm said American Energy Corp. needs to expand operations and dispose of coal mining refuse at Century Mine.

“This township road is right in the middle of AEC’s land. It’s completely surrounded by AEC’s land,” he said, adding that the abandonment of the road would allow the mine to establish a refuse area through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources permitting process. He said the permit is pending.

“ODNR cannot continue processing the application until we deal with vacation of this road,” Stemm said.

Jim Turner, senior vice president of Murray Energy and American Energy Corp., presented a map of the property boundaries of the mine, the processing facility and surface facilities, active disposal areas and potential disposal area. He emphasized the importance of the mine to Belmont County and Wayne Township.

“We have approximately 470 full-time employees at American Energy Corporation,” he said. “We’re competing in a world market, so we have to be the lowest-cost producer in order to compete in that market. …We have to make sure we have the lowest cost possible to get our tons into that market.”

Turner added that nearly half of what the mine produces daily is refuse.

“We have to separate the rock from the coal, and we have to have a place to put the refuse,” he said. “Abandoning this road would allow us to fill in the void in between, and thus keep the footprint of American Energy and the costs associated with refuse disposal as low as possible.”

Turner emphasized the benefit of the mine to the area.

“This is an economic engine of Belmont County,” Turner said.

Casey Crooks, mine manager for Century Mine, also stressed the value of the mine. In addition, he related prior negotiations with Wayne Township trustees regarding the possibility of abandoning the road. Crooks said it was not feasible to put in a new road, due to a property owner’s refusal and the presence of a conservatory easement.

Negotiations to purchase the road also fell through.

Wayne Township Trustee Bill Davis said the township opposes closing the road. He acknowledged the trustees have not done a traffic study on the road, however.

“I can’t tell you how much traffic there is on that road other than the coal mine traffic,” Davis said, adding that the road is the most direct route to Township Road 88. “If you close this road, then we’ve got Township (Road) 88 on the other end of it, so we’re going to probably drive 8 or 9 miles to get to it. As of now, Century or American Energy takes care of that road, but historically they don’t stay forever.”

Davis said past departures of mining operations have resulted in additional maintenance for the township.

“We’re concerned. … If you do vacate this road or whatever you do, we’ve still got the road on the other end,” he said. “If American Energy goes out of there and they sell this property or whatever, and somebody comes in there and decides to develop it, then we’ve got a piece of road we’ve got to drive 10 miles to get to.”

Residents near Township Roads 88 said Mayhugh Road is a valuable shortcut to New Castle.

There is also a bridge on the road, maintained by the county engineer and installed in the last five years. Stemm said the company is willing to provide fair compensation to the county for the bridge if the road is vacated.

Stemm said the portion of Township 88 in Wayne Township is currently maintained by American Energy Corp.

In other matters, the commissioners will hold their next scheduled meeting 9 a.m. Dec 14. They expect to address the Mayhugh Road issue at 10 a.m. that day.