DEP solving two environmental problems at one time in Greene County

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MATHER, Pa. — In one of those convenient coincidences that seem to happen all too rarely, state agencies are using the spoils from one longstanding environmental problem in Pennsylvania to fix another one that’s been around for even longer.

The state Department of Environmental Protection, at a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday in Greene County, announced it will begin remediation work in October on the Mather Coal refuse pile, a 70-acre, 100-foot-high rutted mountain of mine waste that has loomed over the coal patch town of Mather for half a century.

The work will involve grading and leveling the eroded refuse pile to eliminate dangerous cliffs, extinguishing a long-smoldering fire burning under part of the pile, and capping it with 250,000 cubic yards of silt and soil dredged from the bottom of what was Duke Lake in Ryerson Station State Park in Greene County. Capping the rocky coal waste with silt from the lake will facilitate vegetation growth and reduce acidic runoff into Ten Mile Creek.

The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources needs to remove the lake bed silt to clear the way for the reconstruction of the Duke Lake Dam, which was damaged in 2005 by subsidence caused by Consol Energy’s Bailey longwall mine. The once-popular 62-acre recreational lake was subsequently drained as a safety precaution because of the cracks in the dam and has been dry ever since.

“This is the ideal scenario,” said state Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg. “What we’re doing is taking two bad situations we’ve been trying to resolve for a long time and announcing today it’s going to be done.”

Work on the $1.6 million refuse pile project will be done for the DEP by Berner Construction of Gap, Lancaster County. The work will take two years to complete and require more than 17,600 triaxle truckloads to move the silt 28 miles from the lake bed to Mather.

Ellen Ferretti, DCNR secretary, said the sediment removal is “a milestone for moving forward with the restoration of Duke Lake,” which should be finished, refilled and ready for use by summer 2017.

John Poister, a DEP spokesman, said the lake-bottom silt has been tested for toxins and found usable for cover material. He said enough soil is there to cover the entire pile.

“This is a significant project that will be helping out DCNR with the removal of the silt and at the same time covering and reclaiming this very large waste pile,” he said.

This isn’t the first time the state has set its sights on the massive gob pile, which was started by the Mather mine in 1917 and used until 1964, when the mine closed and was abandoned. In 2001, a $1.7 million state Growing Greener grant was earmarked to pay for the first year of a five-year pile removal and capping project that was supposed to stop thousands of gallons of acid mine drainage from flowing into Ten Mile Creek and create a flat and reclaimed landscape suitable for development and recreation projects.

Ken Dufalla, president of Greene County’s Harry Enstrom Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America, a conservation group, said restoration of the refuse pile will remove a “big eyesore” along a 21-mile water trail that the Greene County Council of Governments is planning for Ten Mile Creek.

Don Hopey: or 412-263-1983. First Published August 7, 2014 12:00 AM

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