State urged to reject proposed coal mine in Washington County

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An environmental group on Wednesday delivered more than 3,400 letters urging the state Department of Environmental Protection to reject a plan for a new Washington County coal mine.

RAMACO, the Kentucky coal company pushing the project, said the objections, including from two state legislators, will not derail its plans.

The Center for Coalfield Justice, a nonprofit in Washington, Pa., partially supported by the Heinz Endowments, delivered the letters to the DEP's District Mining Office in California to demonstrate what it says is overwhelming opposition to the proposed mine off Little Mingo Road near Mingo Creek County Park.

"I think it's quite clear that they are not welcome in Nottingham Township," said Patrick Grenter, an attorney and the group's executive director.

In separate letters, state Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, and Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth Township, have both urged the company to withdraw its proposal because of the increased truck traffic, environmental impact and threats to property values, among other factors.

Mr. Grenter said the Nottingham board of supervisors issued a conditional-use permit for the mine, which is in an agricultural zone, but placed more than 60 restrictions on the permit, including hours of operation for trucks, planting foliage as a buffer, mandating a truck wash to minimize dust and a sound barrier.

PG map: Site of proposed mine
(Click image for larger version)

John Poister, a DEP spokesman, said RAMACO filed a "pre-application" with the state in June for an underground mining permit but must address a lengthy list of deficiencies before it can proceed in the permitting process, including a plan to use an adjacent abandoned mine and an existing DEP water treatment plant to handle wastewater from the new mine.

"We have a lot of questions about that," said Mr. Poister, including whether the existing facility has the capacity to take on the additional wastewater stream.

Water is used in the mining process and abandoned mines can collect vast quantities of water that can become contaminated with sulfates and heavy metals before leeching into streams.

Acid water drainage from coal mines is a "major" problem in Pennsylvania, Mr. Poister said, resulting in fish kills and biologically dead waterways.

"We have thousands of miles of streams and creeks that are fouled by mine drainage," he said.

Mr. Poister said RAMACO has 10 months to decide whether to submit an official application.

"At this point we have not heard from the company," Mr. Poister said.

RAMACO president Michael Bauersachs said the company is "committed to following the laws and regulations that are in place to protect both citizens and mining companies" and is "looking forward to completing the permitting process."

He said the Nottingham mine will have a "positive impact on the community in the form of jobs and contributions to fund environmental legacy costs associated with previous unaffiliated mining in the area.

"We are not deterred by environmental radicals and do not recognize the validity of petitions or letters that have been signed by people who have been provided one-sided and untruthful information with which to develop an opinion," Mr. Bauersachs wrote in an email.

While he did not consider the state lawmakers "environmental radicals," Mr. Bauersachs said they had both received false information.

"We will work with them as our permitting advances to make sure they understand the facts," he said.

Denny Franks, 59, a retired U.S. Steel mechanical repairman who lives on Little Mingo Road across from the site of the proposed mine, now a horse farm, said he and his wife, Laurie, a retired teacher, built their home 20 years ago to enjoy the quiet countryside.

"We live in a pristine area out here," he said. "I think this is going to be a true threat to our environment."

They dread a constant parade of coal trucks rumbling in front of their house.

"It's just going to be a terrible situation on our roadways," he said. "I just can't see how this is anything good for the area."


Robert Zullo: rzullo@post-gazette.com, 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @rczullo.

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