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Yough awarded for environmental education

| Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
William S. Zirkle | The Times-Sun
The educational kiosk at the mine discharge remediation site at Lowber displays a history of the coal mine on one side and an explanation of the remediation process on the other side. Yough High School students constructed the kiosk last April.
File photo
Yough High School students (top left) Greg Sleith, Tyler Keating and Randy Swank (bottom) install a roof on what will become an educational kiosk at the mine reclamation site in Lowber in April 2012. The kiosk was the first phase in what the Sewickley Creek Watershed Association hopes will turn the ponds, which removes iron oxide from mine drainage before it goes into the creek, into an educational resource for area schools.

From what was for years an orange creek in Lowber, Sewickley Creek Watershed Association hopes an ongoing education project springs.

Which is why the organization awarded Yough School District for its work in the first phase of turning the mine discharge remediation facility there into a place for environmental education, said SCWA treasurer Larry D. Myers.

“It's not just cleaning up the mine water,” he said. “We want to open this up as an outdoor environmental lab for the region's schools.”

The association presented an Environmental Education Leader Award to the school district, as well as recognized other stewards of the watershed, at its annual fundraising banquet March 9 in its first-ever awards.

In April, students of industrial arts teacher Bill Janiro built an interpretive trail and two-sided kiosk with attached benches that displays a sign to explain the abandoned mine discharge remediation facility in the Sewickley Township village of Lowber.

The project, funded by state grant money, was part of the first phase in creating educational programs alongside the lagoons, which filter 99 percent of the iron oxide from mine drainage before it flows into Sewickley Creek.

“It took a century to create all the damage that's been done and it will take that long to fix it,” Myers said.

Yough Superintendent Janet Sardon accepted the award for the school district, along with Janiro and a few of his students.

“It was a nice partnership between us and Sewickley Watershed,” she said.

The students were able to connect to the environment and improve the community as well, Sardon said.

“As the superintendent, I'm really proud of what we do as a district and proud of our kids and their hard work,” she said, also commending Janiro and high school principal Earl Thompson.

Myers said the association hopes to complete more phases of the outdoor lab within a year or two, including a pavilion for an outdoor work station and platforms near the edges of the lagoons where students can take water samples.

Volunteers are needed to plant trees on Earth Day and plans are under way to add a footbridge near the discharge point and a trail extension.

Currently, iron oxide is waiting to dry outside the lagoons and be transported for use in pigments.

Hepler's Hardware of Youngwood was recognized as Environmental Business Leader. Store founder Bob Hepler and his family have donated materials and services to the watershed association, Myers said.

Jason Farbaugh of the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Wildlife Conservation Office was honored for Community Environmental Service.

“They've helped us out by having a presence there on the property and we can open it up to hunters,” Myers said, adding that the game commission stocks pheasants in the area and has donated 250 plants around the lagoons.

Water specialist with Westmoreland Conservation District Rob Cronauer and Lou Stout of Sewickley Township received Volunteer of the Year Awards for their dedication and service to natural resource conservation efforts.

Ellen Keefe, executive director of Westmoreland Cleanways, was the featured speaker at the banquet and discussed how the watershed association and the Cleanways group were working together to do things like target illegal dumping and discourage vandalism.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 724-836-6660.

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