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State halts efforts to restore Greene County's Duke Lake

| Friday, July 24, 2015, 1:32 p.m.
Jason Cato | Trib Total Media
Crews soon will begin removing silt from the bed of Duke Lake. The 250,000 cubic yards of silt to be removed will be used as part of a reclamation project of a decades-old refuse coal pile in nearby Mather.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Ryerson Station State Park maintenance supervisor Francis Jacobs, 61, of Waynesburg, walks towards the drained Ronald J. Duke Lake and the cracked panels of dam that once held it back at the Greene County park in Richhill on Wednesday, April 24, 2013.

Duke Lake in Greene County, drained 10 years ago, is gone for good, state officials said Friday.

Mining left the ground under the area too unstable to rebuild the dam that filled it as planned, so Department of Conservation of Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Dunn said her department has ended efforts to restore the former lake in Ryerson Station State Park in Richland Hill.

“The (Department of Environmental Protection) regulations say the ground must be stable under all probable conditions, and that wasn't the case,” department spokeswoman Christina Novak said. “If you build a dam, you could see these circumstances occur again.”

In July 2005, the DCNR drained the 62-acre lake upon discovering the aging dam was cracked and leaking.

The state claimed nearby drilling and longwall mining by Consol Energy Inc. made the land unstable and caused subsidence and cracks in the dam. DCNR ended a six-year legal battle with Consol Energy in 2013 when the two sides reached a settlement in which the Cecil-based coal and gas company agreed to pay $36 million to restore the dam and donate 506 acres to the 1,164-acre park, which opened in 1967.

As part of the agreement, Consol did not have to admit the mining caused the damage and received gas rights for the state park — though wells are to be kept outside the property and no mining is to occur under the lake.

DCNR sought approval from DEP in May 2012 for a dam permit application, but upon further evaluation from a third-party dam safety expert, they determined the risk was too high to restore the lake.

“We have money that is available to do some unique features at the park and restore it as recreational opportunity for residents,” said Novak, adding that the DCNR used a portion of the $36 million this year to remove sediment from the former lake.

State Sen. Camera Bartolotta attended the announcement and said she empathizes with the community's frustration but said it's an opportunity to use the land to bring new elements to the park.

“I do understand the broken hearts and the grieving process so much of the community is going through right now. It really is a big loss,” she said. “Once the community gets past this, we can really be excited with moving forward with all of these other plans for Duke Lake.”

A community meeting will take place in August during which residents — along with the Duke Lake Task Force, a group established to enhance recreational opportunities for the park community — will brainstorm ideas for new attractions for the park.

The Center for Coalfield Justice, based in Washington, Pa., filed an appeal in 2014 to the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board objecting to a DEP-issued permit to Consol in 2014 that would allow the company to mine under 3,000 acres of land in Greene County that includes 14 streams — four of which are predicted to incur flow loss or reduction.

“We're deeply saddened that the efforts we've put in as an organization are not going to be successful,” said executive director Patrick Genter. “We understand why DCNR is doing what they are doing and, unfortunately, it isn't shocking.”

In addition to working with the DCNR and Duke Lake Task Force, the center wants to curb longwall mining in the area to protect streams that led to Duke Lake.

Katishi Maake is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7841 or kmaake@tribweb.com.

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