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Some area residents have that sinking feeling

by Shawn Gainer

STAFF WRITER

Ground subsidence caused by past mining activity continues to be an expensive problem in Harrison County.

Last week contractors completed an extensive project to stabilize ground beneath residences in Glenwood Hills, as well as an emergency project in Adamston where ground slippage has threatened a residence on the 1600 block of Junkins Avenue, said Marshall Leo, Abandoned Mine Lands project planner for northern West Virginia.

"We got a lot of subsidence complaints in Glenwood Hills. There's only 30 feet of ground cover above the coal -- just 20 feet in some places," Leo said. "That creates the potential for more severe subsidence events like the foundations of houses cracking."

Leo added the Glenwood Hills remediation, performed by Coastal Drilling of Morgantown, cost $574,939. The emergency remediation in Adamston, contracted to Alwood Co. of Clarksburg, cost more than $200,000. The projects are funded through a federal tax on mined coal.

"A lot of projects can go up to $1 million to $2 million," he said.

Leo added that in 1999, he had to initiate an emergency remediation in Shinnston, where severe subsidence threatened residences on Van Rufus Drive. He is trying to start another project to prevent more problems there.

Also, he has worked with Short Line Public Service District to extend municipal water lines to the Marshville area, where destabilized bedrock has caused loss from water wells, as well as acid and sulfur contamination of well water.

Terry Schulte, who chairs the Harrison County Planning Commission, says the commission has applied for a grant to help fund the Marshville project and she hopes construction will begin in late summer.

Ground remediation is usually performed by drilling into an abandoned mine shaft, pumping out water and then pumping in thousands of cubic feet of concrete to prevent the ground above from collapsing into it.

It can be a messy process, but Lucille Lopez, a resident of Roane Avenue in Glenwood hills, said the results are worth it.

"They drilled seven holes in our yard, put a big pipe into the ground and pumped concrete into it," Lopez said. "I was worried but, thank goodness, they checked it out before we had any problems.

"We pay for subsidence insurance but I don't think we'll ever have to use it. It's been kind of a mess, but I would rather have that than worry about our house."

Because of extensive unregulated mining of the Pittsburgh Coal Seam during the 1920s and 1930s, much of Harrison County has been undermined, Leo said.

"We do emergency projects all the time, throughout the county," he said. "Shinnston has a lot of undermined areas and so does Clarksburg. Really, the whole county does. We try to do projects that will affect the most people."

Anyone selling a home is required to disclose whether it has been undermined. Also, area insurance companies often check for undermining before they will write homeowner policies, said Janet Warner, an agent with Homefinders Plus Real Estate Inc. in Bridgeport.

Warner added that sometimes undermining can make selling a home more difficult.

"Local people are accustomed to it, but people coming in from out of the area are very leery of buying property which has been undermined," she said.

Leo recommends checking with the U.S. Geological Survey Office in Morgantown before buying property.

"If you give them the latitude and longitude of a house, or take a map to Morgantown, they can tell you if there's coal underneath it," he said. "If there is, take out subsidence insurance. In West Virginia, insurance companies have to offer it to you. At least you'll be somewhat protected."

Leo added that the Geological Survey provides the service at no charge.

"A lot of people look at a structure but don't think about what's underneath it," he said. "People who move in from out of state may not be aware."

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