Case Study 1- The Pittston Mentality- Manslaughter on Buffalo Creek

Case Study 1- The Pittston Mentality- Manslaughter on Buffalo Creek

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Unformatted text preview: Case Study Case Study The Pittston Mentality: Manslaughter on Buffalo Creek White Collar Crime CRJU E491W­ Fall 2011 William C. Smith Buffalo Creek Buffalo Creek Buffalo Creek, in Logan County, West Virginia, consists of three branches. Several “coal towns” were located along the 20 plus mile stretch of the creek. Buffalo Mining Company, a subsidiary of the Pittston Coal Company, began dumping gob (mine waste) from its strip mining operations into the Middle Fork branch beginning in 1957. The dams and coal mine waste turned Middle Fork into a series of black pools. Buffalo Mining constructed its first gob dam near the mouth of Middle Fork in 1960. Six years later, it added a second dam, and in 1968 added a third dam. By 1972, the third dam ranged from 45 to 60 feet in height. The First Break The First Break In 1967, a break in one of the dams caused slight flooding and state mining officials requested Pittston to make a few minor alterations to the dam. In February 1971, Dam Number 3 failed, but Dam Number 2 halted the water. The state cited Pittston for violations but failed to follow up with inspections. Pittston had developed a reputation for poor safety practices and by 1972 was the largest independent coal producer in the country and ranked second in the number of fatal and non­ fatal accidents. Precipitating Conditions Precipitating Conditions In the days preceding February 26, 1972, rain fell continuously, and Buffalo Mining employees, concerned about the condition of the highest dam, measured water levels every two hours. Pittston officials were alerted to the increasing danger, but the residents of the hollow were not advised of the situation. The company sent away two deputy sheriffs, who had been dispatched to assist with potential evacuations. The Fatal Break The Fatal Break Just prior to 8:00 a.m. on February 26, 1972 a heavy­equipment operator discovered the water had risen to the crest of the impoundment and that the dam was "real soggy." At 8:05 a.m., the dam collapsed and the water released obliterated the other two impoundments. Approximately 132 million gallons of black waste water rushed through the narrow Buffalo Creek hollow. The Result The Result In a matter of minutes, 125 were dead, 1,100 injured, and over 4,000 left homeless. In addition, 1,000 cars and trucks were destroyed. Over 500 houses and 44 mobiles homes were destroyed, and the flood damaged an additional 943 houses and mobile homes. Property damage was estimated at $50 million. The Response The Response West Virginia Governor Arch Moore temporarily banned journalists from the area to prevent “irresponsible reporting.” He viewed as a greater tragedy than what befallen the people of Buffalo Creek, the unflattering coverage of West Virginia in the national press. Pittston officials called the flood an "Act of God" and said the dam was simply "incapable of holding the water God poured into it.“ The Governor defended Pittston by stating that the sludge­ built dam had served a “logical and constructive” use by filtering mine wastes that would otherwise have gone unfiltered into Buffalo Creek. Three separate commissions (federal, state, and citizen) found that Buffalo Mining had blatantly disregarded standard safety practices. A circuit court grand jury, however, failed to return indictments against Pittston despite the numerous apparent violations of state and federal law. The U.S. Department of the Interior claimed that there was no federal responsibility in the matter, despite the fact that federal regulations enacted pursuant to the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act specifically covered the construction and use of gob piles and retaining dams. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers performed a “clean up” of the flooded area at a cost of $3.7 million. The state of West Virginia negotiated with the federal government until 1988, finally agreeing to repay $9.5 million to cover the overall clean­up costs and a portion of the interest. The Impact on Pittston The Impact on Pittston Although Pittston did not emerge completely victorious from the disaster, they controlled the situation from the beginning. They acquired the support of Governor Moore, who closed the disaster area to reporters, thus mitigating their damages. After the dam failure, a number of residents were outraged at Pittston. Some of the residents formed a group called the Buffalo Creek Citizens Commission. They claimed that Pittston's actions while constructing the coal­waste dam and in the days leading up to the disaster were "reckless." Costs and Damages Costs and Damages The state then sued Pittston for $100 million, $50 million of which was earmarked to recoup the cost of damages and recovery efforts. However, Governor Moore negotiated a $1 million settlement just three days prior to leaving office in 1977. Numerous private lawsuits were filed. In the largest class action suit, some 600 survivors and family members of victims sued Pittston for $64 million, but settled out of court for $13.5 million in 1974, with each individual receiving an average of $13,000 after legal costs. The Aftermath The Aftermath The 1969 federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, in effect prior to the Buffalo Creek Disaster, outlawed coal impoundments like those built by the Buffalo Mining Company, but regulatory enforcement was seldom undertaken. The disaster at Buffalo Creek forced the federal Mine Health and Safety Administration to recognize the importance of enforcing the regulations. In 1973, the West Virginia legislature passed the Dam Control Act, regulating all dams in the state. However, funding was never appropriated to enforce the law . In 1992, an official with the state Division of Natural Resources estimated there were at least 400 hazardous non­coal dams in West Virginia, many of which were owned by the state. ...
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