PSC dismisses mining permit complaintIn the latest round of applications and appeals for a coal mine and beneficiation plant near South Heart, a complaint filed by concerned parties more than a year ago was dismissed by the North Dakota Public Service Commission on Wednesday morning.
In the latest round of applications and appeals for a coal mine and beneficiation plant near South Heart, a complaint filed by concerned parties more than a year ago was dismissed by the North Dakota Public Service Commission on Wednesday morning.
“It’s not over,” said Mary Hodell of Neighbors United, a South Heart- based citizen-awareness group. “We knew the PSC would probably dismiss it. With this, our goals haven’t changed.”
GTL Energy USA, a subsidiary of the Australian-based coal mining company GTL Energy Ltd., has been constructing a coal beneficiation plant aimed at producing a cleaner-burning, higher-energy coal.
Kevin Cramer, North Dakota Public Service Commission chairman, said a complaint was filed by Dakota Resource Council and concerned landowners on Jan. 22, 2009, alleging GTLE Dakota Plant 1, LLC, was in violation of North Dakota Century Code regulating surface coal-mining operations without a permit, based on an alleged connection to a mine owned and operated by South Heart Coal, Great Northern Project Development.
On Feb. 11, 2009, the PSC found the complaint served a definitive case against GTLE.
For more than a year, the question remained if GTLE would engage in any “activities affecting the surface of lands in connection with a surface coal mine.”
Cramer said it has been determined the facility is not operated in connection with a surface coal mine and no permit is required.
“There is currently no mine in the vicinity of the coal beneficiation facility, nor is there an application pending for any such coal mine,” Cramer said. “GTLE’s facility will have a useful life independent of any one coal mine and it will operate primarily for the benefit of end users.
“Even if there would be a mine in the vicinity of the plant, we conclude that the GTLE facility will have a useful life independent of that mine and the facility will be operated for the benefit of end users.”
On Oct. 2, 2003, a coal lease and surface use agreement was issued to South Heart Coal LLC for “the purpose of investigating, prospecting ... developing, mining, extracting, producing, transporting” coal.
The lease is a primary term of 15 years and was signed by several surrounding landowners.
On March 25, 2009, GNPD filed a letter on behalf of South Heart Coal, withdrawing a surface coal mining permit.
DRC spokeswoman Linda Weiss said she has attended several public meetings in Dickinson and South Heart where officials from GTL have discussed the matter of a mine.
“I think it’s the intention of some parties that it’s still going to take place,” Weiss said. “There’s all these public meetings they’ve held for a mine or a certain kind of power plant, but every time they have a public meeting, the kind of power plant or the kind of facility they’re talking about is different. So I’m not sure exactly what they’re going to build. It’s a mystery to me.”
Paul Blackburn, staff attorney for Plains Justice, an environmental advocacy organization representing DRC, said they feel the plant is part of the mining industry because if it didn’t exist, the coal couldn’t be sold.
“It’s much more closely related to the coal-mining industry than it is to some end user,” Blackburn said. “It isn’t a part of any other industry. It’s to help make raw coal sellable.”
After a judge threw out a zoning change from agricultural to industrial, GNPD was to re-apply in February, but withdrew their application.
GNPD Spokesman Neal Messer said the company re-filed a zoning change application on Tuesday afternoon and suspects they will be on Stark County Commission’s April agenda.
Messer said he doesn’t think the PSC’s dismissal was unexpected and the complaint filing was quite a reach.
“It’s their (concerned individuals) attitude that anything to do with coal needs to be extremely overregulated ... so they were grasping at anything that they could grasp at trying to stop these projects,” Messer said when asked why individuals would think the beneficiation plant would involve a mine.
A call to Robert French, chief executive officer of GTL’s U.S. division, went unreturned.