Split opinions collide about proposed strip mine

About 50 people crammed into the Athens County Commissioners conference room yesterday to debate reopening a strip mine near Amesville.

Oxford Mining Company, of Coshocton, has proposed opening the Joy Hollow mine site near Sharpsburg, about 20 miles northeast of Athens and on the edge of Athens County. The company filed a permit with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources last year, but withdrew its application and has yet to complete its new permit. 

The hour-long discussion at the commissioners meeting was occasionally tense, as members of Save Our Rural Environment argued this mine would harm the environment as well as local roads from increased truck usage.

“It can’t be confined to just one space. The impact spreads,” said Sandra Sleight-Brennan, a member of the group.

Acid run-off from mining coal at the site would also have an adverse effect on the region, she said.

“I don’t want to see strip mining come back to Athens County,” Sleight-Brennan said.

Betty Lowe, who owns land with her husband near the strip mine, said she worries that blasting in the mine site will sully the clean water available to them.

“Nature has healed our land. The high walls are now a thing of beauty,” she said. “Strip pits became filled with sweet, clear water — clean enough for drinking, swimming, and supporting many game fish, such as bass, blue gills and Channel catfish.”

Save Our Rural Environment was opposed by members of the Save Our Rural Economy, which touted job growth and the restoration of local properties that were damaged when the mine was previously open about 50 years ago.

Former Athens County Commissioner Bill Theisen said that allowing Oxford Mining to excavate the site for about three years will assist with blending the land back to its more natural contours.

“And this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do a real improvement in this county to previously destroyed area that was mined before the current mining regulations went in effect,” Theisen said.

Theisen added that personal property rights is also an important topic here.
“That’s something that has not been upheld for years; (it) is the personal property rights of the people in this county,” he said.

Both he and Jeff Roberts, President of TCCI Laboratories, a New Lexington water-testing laboratory, touted the economic impact this mine would have on the region.

“It was Third World back (in the 1960s), and a lot of Appalachia is still Third World. We have to admit that. The reason it’s Third World is because there’s no jobs here,” Roberts said. “If we want to make jobs, we have to invite industry in, not chase industry out. I personally don’t want to live in a Third World.”

Theisen added that Oxford Mining informed him about 40 people would be hired to operate the mine, and that he was assured many would be local residents.
“I tell you right now, there’s a lot of people in this county that they’d be tickled to death to have a job,” he said.

Sleight-Brennan said she questions the number of jobs and economic impact Oxford Mining would bring. The company often shuffles employees from one mine to another, and because it would pay taxes to the state, Athens County would not benefit, she added.

“There is no economic advantage to the county for doing this,” she said.

Commissioners Lenny Eliason and Larry Payne said they remain undecided. The commissioners will visit the area with members of both advocacy groups a week from Thursday.

“To be prudent, we actually need to go out to see the site to view it,” Payne said.



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