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North Dakota coal mines fined for soil erosion

By Dale Wetzel
Associated Press Writer / July 28, 2010

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BISMARCK, N.D.—Two coal companies have agreed to pay fines to settle Public Service Commission environmental complaints about water drainage and soil erosion at their mines in west-central North Dakota.

Erosion around a 5-foot culvert at BNI Coal Ltd.'s Center mine caused damage to part of an Oliver County section line road and allowed waste material to get into a nearby creek, regulatory filings say.

At Dakota Westmoreland Corp.'s Beulah mine in neighboring Mercer County, the temporary removal of part of a berm that was intended to channel water resulted in sediment being washed onto land adjacent to the mine property.

The Public Service Commission on Wednesday voted to fine BNI Coal $1,250 for its violations, and to levy a $1,000 fine against Dakota Westmoreland.

The companies, in regulatory filings, said they would not contest the penalties. A state inspector found the BNI violation in April, while the Dakota Westmoreland problem was discovered in May.

Kevin Cramer, the commission's chairman, said the violations have been remedied, and no permanent damage was done. The BNI Coal fine was larger because the washout of part of the section line road posed a safety hazard, he said.

"In both cases, the companies took very, very prompt -- even a little bit extraordinary -- measures to alleviate the problem, and to fix it," Cramer said.

BNI Coal, which is a unit of Allete Inc. of Duluth, Minn., mines about 4.5 million tons of coal each year at the Center mine. It supplies lignite to the nearby Milton Young power station, which is operated by Minnkota Power Cooperative of Grand Forks, N.D.

Dakota Westmoreland's Beulah mine produces about 3 million tons of lignite each year for the Coyote power plant, which is owned by four utilities and run by Otter Tail Power Co., of Fergus Falls, Minn. Dakota Westmoreland is a unit of Westmoreland Coal Co. of Colorado Springs, Colo.

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Online:

Westmoreland Coal Co. http://www.westmoreland.com/