Consol Energy Inc. to pay $36 million to replace Greene County dam
State officials plan to reopen Duke Lake in Greene County by the summer of 2017, now that they have a multimillion-dollar deal with Consol Energy Inc. for dam repairs and gas drilling at Ryerson Station State Park.
The deal includes a $36 million payment from Cecil-based Consol to help rebuild the dam, state officials announced at the park Wednesday. The state is dropping its six-year legal fight over whether Consol's mining caused subsidence and cracks in the dam to get it rebuilt and protect the core of the park from drilling and mining, officials said.
As part of the deal, Consol officials will not admit fault. The dam will be designed to withstand impacts from coal and gas extraction nearby, said Tommy Johnson, Consol's vice president of government and public relations. Consol plans to expand its coal mining under the outskirts of the park. The state also agreed to lease the park's gas rights in return for Consol agreeing to keep its wells outside the park and its mines from under the lake, officials said.
“They own the mineral rights. You and I can't stop them from accessing them,” Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Richard Allan said after the announcement. “We're getting more than enough to rebuild the dam.”
The Center for Coalfield Justice, which had intervened in the legal case, criticized state officials for giving in to Consol's negotiating tactics and how it leveraged the mineral rights under the park.
“We're happy that the dam is coming back,” said the group's executive director, Patrick Grenter. “We think it's just outrageous that Consol has avoided taking any responsibility for the destruction they caused here.”
Workers at the nearby Graysville Store said that while they blamed Consol for the damage, getting the lake reopened and restoring a lost community keystone would be the biggest story of the year in Greene County.
“It would be the only thing anyone would care about or get excited about,” said Stacey Marshall, 36, of Richhill. It had long been the only spot for many local families to go fishing, camping, swimming and paddle boating, and they haven't wanted to go back since state workers drained the lake in 2005 when it was leaking badly, she said.
The center of the dam is gone, but the outer walls remain, with cracks several feet long and some cement segments separating at the base.
Less than half of the $36 million payment comes with no strings. Consol is paying $4 million as the upfront land bonus that's common in gas lease deals, and that money will go to a statewide fund. An additional $13.7 million is essentially a guaranteed advance on royalties the company could start paying if it drills under the land, department spokeswoman Christina Novak said.
As part of the settlement, Consol will also donate 506 acres to the 1,164-acre park. Consol could donate some of that land by early next year, but it will hold other parts for years to use for its well pads, company officials have said. It will be months before they finish a plan on where and how many wells they will drill and how long drilling will take, they added.
Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or firstname.lastname@example.org.