Sen. Ryan Weld To Tackle Mine Subsidence Rules
WHEELING — West Virginia Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld sees a need to protect property owners’ rights in incidents involving mine subsidence.
As state lawmakers prepare to return to Charleston for the start of their regular 60-day session Wednesday, Weld, R-Brooke, is preparing legislation giving the State Department of Environmental Protection authority to determine property owner compensation in mine subsidence cases.
A long-standing rule in both state and federal law presently permits coal companies to choose the method of compensation they will provide to the property owners. They decide whether they will step in and fully repair the land subsidence, or determine the financial amount they will reimburse the property owner for the decrease in their property’s value, according to Weld.
“I’ve been doing a lot of research into how other states handle mine subsidence damages,” he said. “Just because something was done a certain way in West Virginia, or because it was done that way in federal law, doesn’t me we have to continue to do it that way.”
Weld’s legislation is modeled after Pennsylvania’s legislation, which directs the property owner to file a claim with the DEP. The agency would then investigate and determine the amount of compensation due the property owner from the coal operator.
“This protects property owners from having to hire legal counsel and filing a legal suit against the coal operator,” he said. “Also, it protects them in that it is not just the coal operator who is determining the amount of compensation, but is instead a neutral party.”
The legislation also provides a means for either the property owner or the coal operator to appeal the DEP decision, according to Weld. If the coal operator is the one to appeal, they would deposit the original amount of compensation determined by the DEP is into an escrow account while the appeal process transpires.
In addition, if a property owner must move from their home because of the subsidence, they would be entitled to additional compensation from the coal operator for the moving as well as any incidental costs, he said.
“This process allows for the property owner to have greater flexibility resolving these issues, while also protecting them from having to obtain expensive legal counsel and not have a greater say in the process,” Weld said.