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New coal mining in Black Diamond? Not such a blast to some

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BLACK DIAMOND, Wash. — In 1910, Bill Guerrini’s father immigrated from Italy to work in the coal mines of Black Diamond.

The area was built on mining.  The ‘Welcome to Black Diamond,’ sign heading into town is in the shape of a coal mining cart. The community is named after the Black Diamond Coal Co. that employed so many decades ago.

Guerrini wouldn’t mind seeing that culture come back “if it creates jobs.”

“They’re no jobs for working-class people anymore,” he said Thursday.

photoBut others in Black Diamond are expressing concern over a coal company’s decision to restart coal mining at the long-defunct John Henry mine.

On April 2, the Pacific Coast Coal Co. sent a letter to Black Diamond residents notifying them the company would resume mining at the 110-year-old coal pit. Mining would include noisy blasting operations, something the company called an “essential component” in the 160-acre mine not far from area homes.

“Pacific Coast Coal Company (PCCC) hereby announces its intention to detonate explosives during its mining operations,” a letter sent to Black Diamond residents read.

Blasting will occur between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and last until possibly June 30, 2015, another letter stated. The company intends to mine 700,000 tons of coal over six years, concerned residents said.

“They’re talking about blasting coal,” said Alex Epstein, an environmental activist with FUSE. “The impacts on our air and our water is severe, not to mention the impacts on our health.”

Epstein’s group is pushing the federal government to deny the request by Pacific Coast Coal to begin blasting in the mine.

Dave Morris, the manager of the coal company, said it would be the smallest coal mine west of Kentucky, and does not pose health risks.

“We operated for 14 years with three times the amount of blasting and trucks; there were no complaints, no problems,” said Morris.

The mine shut down 10 years ago when the price of coal dropped, but prices are back up now, and the company recently signed a contract to provide coal for a Canadian cement company for the next five years.

They won’t start digging without a fight.

A petition demanding a public hearing on the issue already has 1,400 signatures.

Said Alex Stein: “We need to make sure we’re looking at every possible option for clean energy economy, and not looking back to coal.”

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