The remainder of the dam at Ryerson Station State Park in February. Part of the structure had been removed for safety reasons.
By Don Hopey Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Details emerged Wednesday about the settlement agreement between the state and Consol Energy that clears the way for rebuilding the Duke Lake Dam in Ryerson Station State Park by the summer of 2017, but allows mining and Marcellus Shale gas drilling under the park in Greene County.
Some, like state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Richard Allan, saw angels in the settlement agreement which, he said, short-circuits a lengthy legal battle over whether Consol's nearby Bailey Mine caused the 45-year-old concrete dam to crack, and puts reconstruction of the dam and its 62-acre lake "on the fast track."
Others, including Patrick Grenter, executive director of the Center for Coalfield Justice, which intervened in the legal fight between DCNR and Consol, didn't need to look far to find a pitchfork.
"We're pleased that the dam will be reconstructed but we're outraged that not only has Consol avoided taking responsibility for the failure of the dam eight years ago, but the settlement is tied to a profit-making venture for the company," Mr. Grenter said. "We were hoping for some leadership on this from our state officials, but they passed on the opportunity."
Terms of the settlement announced at a news conference Wednesday afternoon in the 1,164-acre park include:
-- Consol will pay the state $36 million to cover the costs of rebuilding the dam, previously estimated by the DCNR at $30 million, and legal fees.
-- The payment includes a $4 million up front lease payment by Consol for an as yet undetermined number of Marcellus Shale gas wells that the company has agreed to locate outside the park boundaries. Those wells will use horizontal drilling technology to collect gas from under the park.
-- After Consol receives the first $13.7 million from the sale of gas from those wells, the state will receive an 18 percent royalty on all subsequent sales.
-- Consol will give the state eight parcels of land totaling 506 acres to expand the park, but the land transfers won't occur right away. Consol may use some or all of the land parcels to site gas wells. If it does, the parcels won't be deeded to the state until after the wells are drilled, produce and are capped, a process that could take 20 or 30 years.
-- Consol will also be allowed to longwall mine in the Pittsburgh Seam under the eastern end of the park, but company officials couldn't say yesterday how many acres that mining might impact.
-- Consol is prohibited from mining beneath the new dam and lake, and from using any water from the park for any gas well drilling or hydraulic fracturing.
-- Consol does not admit any liability for damaging the dam in 2005.
Although the DCNR in a 2008 lawsuit against Consol sought $58 million to replace the dam, restore the lake and repair damages to the park, Mr. Allan said the money Consol has put up "will be adequate enough to do everything we want to do." Chuck Morris, chairman of the Greene County commissioners, said the board of commissioners is happy an agreement was reached and dam reconstruction won't be delayed.
"We're delighted the problem will be resolved in a few more years," Mr. Morris said, "and the lake will be there again as we all remember it."
Tommy Johnson, a Consol lobbyist and vice president for government relations and public relations, told the news conference attendees the agreement allows the parties involved to "set aside who is wrong and right" and described the restoration of the lake and park as 'a tremendous win for all of us."