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$30M in federal funding to help clean up Pennsylvania coal mines

| Thursday, July 14, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
A sign at the former Florence East mine site, a 30-acre strip mine in Hanover Township, on Thursday, June 30, 2016. The land has been reclaimed to restore the environment back from the long-abandoned mine site.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
The former Florence East mine site, a 30-acre strip mine in Hanover Township, on Thursday, June 30, 2016. The land has been reclaimed to restore the environment back from the long-abandoned mine site.

Pennsylvania environmental regulators will use $30 million in federal funding to help clean up scarred land and tainted water at 14 abandoned coal sites.

The list of approved projects announced Wednesday by the Department of Environmental Protection includes one that fixes a 54-acre site at Pittsburgh International Airport where officials have for years planned a business park dubbed the World Trade Center, and another aimed at reclaiming abandoned mines beneath the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden in North Fayette.

“We're not merely reclaiming abandoned mine sites,” said acting department Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “We're working with partners to develop these sites as economic engines in a variety of ways.”

Many of the sites chosen by the DEP have plans in place or work under way to convert the land to industrial parks or to increase recreational use and tourism, such as extending trails. Three involve cleaning up acid mine drainage into waterways, one will pay to extinguish a long-burning coal fire, and several will examine the potential use of mine water for warming or cooling of buildings.

Federal money to reclaim land and water damaged by coal mining that took place before bonding programs came about in the late 1970s comes from fees collected on every ton of coal mined today. DEP awards about $27 million of that money each year to remediation projects, McDonnell said.

In December, lawmakers approved a pilot program that sent an additional $90 million to Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky. The goal of the pilot is “to explore ways to return our legacy coal sites to productive reuse,” McDonnell said.

Pennsylvania's share will go to eight former bituminous coal sites in Allegheny, Armstrong, Cambria, Clearfield, Clinton and Washington counties, and six former anthracite areas in the Northeast corner of the state. All have “been on the DEP radar for some time,” said Eric Cavazza, director of the department's Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation.

The department did not specify how much money each project will get.

In some cases, the money will supplement previously announced funding for projects, such as a $13.5 million contract awarded to Kittanning-based Rosebud Mining Co. to clean up an abandoned mine and huge refuse pile near Johnstown.

The recently opened Pittsburgh Botanic Garden is in the midst of a multi-phase project to stabilize land subsidence and neutralize acid drainage coming from several abandoned mining operations on the site as a contractor resumes mining and reclaims land there.

“Some of the reclamation work going on there is kind of innovative, and it can serve as a national gold standard,” Cavazza said.

At the airport in Findlay, the site chosen for the business park sits atop three abandoned coal mines and has dangerous areas of exposed rocks known as “highwalls.”

“We're very pleased to receive the grant from DEP,” airport spokesman Bob Kerlik said. “The money will be used to mitigate two former mine highwalls on the World Trade Center site. The WTC project is in the design phase, and this money is a piece of helping that project to move forward.”

David Conti is the assistant business editor at the Tribune-Review. Reach him at 412-388-5802 or dconti@tribweb.com.

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