COAL MINING IN RHEA COUNTY: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
by Roy L. Denton
Notice how we all are just now essentially "hearing" about this coal mining venture? I bet a whole bunch of people never knew coal mining was even being discussed until recently. Why is that?
My short answer to "why" is that is this—the Herald-News. The Herald-News has continued to lower the standard for journalism for years. In days gone by, the newspaper slowly went from non-existent, to bad, to decent, to pretty good—swapped hands then during the last 20 plus years, or so, has went from being pretty good, to lacking, to not caring, to puffing stories, to the current generalized not caring about informing the public, but a primary focus on the NUMBERS. In other words, Rhea County citizens get to find out whatever "select people" want us to know.
This coal mining idea isn‘t new at al. Notwithstanding “county level” discussions, coal mining has been discussed even at the Dayton City level for a couple years now. While going through a series of audio recordings that I have recorded while attending city council meetings, or from an agent acting for me sitting silent in the crowd wired with nothing more than a audio recorder, coal has been discussed at least since early 2010. However, I really don't remember ever reading about any of these discussions in the Herald-News. Do you?
No matter how many of these jobs of "crawling 1,000 feet underground to dig coal" and the potential to earn good salaries, and a casting aside of the horrible coal mining of days gone, those days always had that "company store-community". Sure the mine would pay the miners BUT the miners basically had to spend their pay at the "company store". As usual, only select persons made any real money from a coal mine. The people that worked the mines were akin to ants and the jobs they do. The queen gets the royal treatment, not the workers. Even on a bug level, we each have a place. But certainly, times have changed and perhaps mentalities have changed. The jury is still out on that one. Just look at how our county is run...different people get elected but do things basically the same way. Like marking time in a timeless march never making it anywhere at all. Hard to envision going forward when the only one’s going forward are the ones that are “juiced in” to the system isn’t it?
My concern, other than numerous other factors excluding the "more jobs" rationale (the county officials will NOT be digging coal, someone will, but Ronnie Raper will not) fails in comparison to all this "safety first" jargon we always hear about. Further, rightly so, local mountain residents are worried that secondary roads will never be able to handle the extra weight of these trucks adding to the already logging and quarry trucks that currently use those roads. But the problems run much deeper than secondary, narrow roads.
My chief concern regarding this coal mining venture is "getting the coal OFF the mountain". As some of us know, and now that it is starting to be made public about less than 1 year of opening a mine, since at least 2010 the North Carolina based company called Iron Properties LLC has been in a deal with a company based from Ohio called Integrity Development Consultants, Inc. to drill test holes all around up on the mountain searching for coal veins, and they found them. These companies since that time have long since been planning to dig coal mines here, just apparently "nobody" in authority, along with your complacent "ad priority first newspaper" the Herald-News, just never told us. Now with less than a year, we are being told of plans that are no longer up for discussion, just plans on what these companies which are fully supported (quite obviously) by your local elected officials will be doing. These officials see "dollar signs", which is good, but along with "good" there is usually "bad". That is the flip side of the silver coin.
As per Mark Bartoski the owner of Integrity Development, he estimates a minimum of 75 loads of coal to be trucked off the mountain. It is estimated that each of these 75 loads will carry between 25 and 28 tons each. Folks, that is 25-28 tons of coal per truck TIMES 75 loads. Doing the math, considering that a ton weighs 2,000 pounds you can figure that each truck load of coal will carry anywhere from 50,000 pounds to 56,000 pounds of raw coal off the mountain. A standard 53 ft. dump bed along with the weight of the truck pulling it, you can easily calculate a weight per truck and it's load to being extremely heavy. As to my knowledge, the max weight that can be legally hauled is 80,000 pounds. As you can see at this link: http://sharplogger.vt.edu/documents/DMV%20Size%20Weight%20Requirements.pdf based on Virginia specs, as compared to this link http://tinyurl.com/tn-weight-limits based on Tennessee specs, then 80,000 pounds of gross weight is the point where calculations could be conservatively made.
Now that we have established the potential “gross weight” we need to shift concern to how that astronomical weight will be safely hauled. One thing for certain, Highway 30 (Dayton Mountain Highway) will have a projected 75 truck loads of coal coming off the mountain headed toward a barge at the Tennessee River. As per Mr. Bartoski, these trucks will run between 10 and 11 hours per day. My bet would be that based upon demand, extra pay for extra loads and just “general greed”, we all can expect trucks to run 12 hours per day easily. In any event, to keep it simple, we will calculate using just 10 hours per day of hauling coal off the mountain.
Therefore, 75 trucks that weigh a little less than 80,000 pounds each (weight of truck, dump trailer and load of coal) will be coming OFF the mountain for 10 hours per day. It is then to be assumed that if 75 trucks come OFF the mountain then most certainly 75 trucks will have to go back UP the mountain. In other words, a handful of trucks will be going up and down the mountain all day long, or at least for 10 hours on each given day. Rhea County can easily expect to see large coal carrying semi-trucks (even a dump truck, either way weight is weight) either coming DOWN or going UP the mountain for a minimum of 10 hours. In order for 75 loads to be hauled in a 10 hour work day that means that a minimum of 7.5 loads (round up to 8 loads for simplicity) must be hauled per hour. That means that every hour we have trucks, some loaded and some not loaded going up and down the mountain at a minimum of 8 times per hour. That means every 15 minutes you will have TWO loaded trucks going DOWN the mountain or unloaded trucks going back UP the mountain. Either way, if 75 loads are coming down the mountain then it just makes sense that 75 empty loads go back up it. Therefore, this 75 loads per day coming DOWN to the Tennessee River MUST go back up that mountain so essentially we have actually 75 trips down the mountain, therefore, 75 trips going back up for a total of 150 trips up and down the mountain ever 10 hour work day. So if we add 75 trucks UP and 75 trucks DOWN we can actually take my simple calculations and times it by TWO. Imagine every hour of every 10 hour day 16 trips per hour, up and down, up and down, up and down the mountain all day long. So in a way, we can easily project a rather conservative minimum of TWO trips every 15 minutes to a more realistic FOUR trips per 15 minutes. In other words, you have a truck either going UP or DOWN the mountain every few minutes for 10 hours every work day. Does that make YOU feel safe? Now, where are the runaway ramps? Has there been even a remote thought of building a runaway ramp for not only these trucks, but all other trucks that will come down that mountain? Do our officials think of public safety, or not. Either way, expect to see 75 loaded 80,000 pound potential disasters coming DOWN that mountain with 75 more empty disasters going UP the mountain only to get loaded back up and come back DOWN, a potential disaster.
I am no road expert and never give a road much thought until I start hitting holes, bumps, ruts, wrinkles and a host of other pavement damages. I am not going to address my opinion of “road damage” and “impact assessments”. I do however want to address a safety concern. I live near the base of Dayton Mountain where Highway 30 is a mere feet away from my home. There is a school at the base of the mountain on Delaware as well. Even now we here those “jake brakes”and smell those hot brakes of loaded trucks. I shutter at the thought if one of those maxed out in gross weight trucks losing their brakes and flying off the mountain. What if one truck loses its' brakes and crashes into the railroad overpass near the intersection of Highway 30 and Railroad St.? What then?
As if these potential 80,000 disasters aren’t enough to worry about, what about the secondary roads on Dayton Mountain that will be extremely much more traveled by trucks hauling coal? This is merely a short synopsis of things that will be and things that “could be”. Either way, your officials will not be digging coal, will not be driving those trucks, will not have to worry about the fear factors UNLESS one of them, or someone dear to them happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time WHEN or IF one of those massive trucks loses their brakes. Too bad we always hear this old catch phrase of “well, if it only saves one life, it’s worth it” when it comes to public officials rambling off an excuse to spend public funds. I am amazed at how for over two years our officials knew this all was in the works, your Herald-News newspaper knew it was in the works but not a single person stepped up to tell us, the actual people placed in dire straights. I suppose as always, these “talks” were done out of public view, away from dissenting opinionated persons such as myself. No public discussions, no talks of safety, no runaway ramps, no anything. Just a rich company moving in knowing that this rural, jobless, broke county that they know is run by people who by abundance demonstrate classic ignorance when it comes to “local governing”, and sweep in with a few dollars, a promise of good things to come and they get a free reign. It is mind boggling.
So in conclusion, I guess losing a few lives, wiping out a few bridges and a fear factor multiplied by 150 per day in just traversing up and down the mountain now is a small price to pay in order to bring in a few good jobs (if crawling down a 1,000 ft. hole is a good job) to our local economy. I for one am very glad that I do not live on that mountain. I feel a sense of sorrow for those that do live up there and for those that must travel it everyday.