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South Fayette officials expected to vote on coal mining under former hospital

Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

Coal valued between $20 million and $62 million waits beneath the former Mayview State Hospital site in South Fayette, and its owners hope there's a market for it by the time they can mine it.

The South Fayette Zoning Hearing Board is expected to decide on Wednesday on a controversial application by Duquesne Heights-based Aloe Brothers LLC to mine part of the 158 acres. The company bought the property from the state in 2010 for $505,000 and demolished the former hospital buildings.

Aloe wants to conduct “incidental surface mining” as it levels and grades the eastern 37 acres off Mayview Road, near the Upper St. Clair border. Aloe would sell the coal to help finance construction of an office/light industrial park.

“We haven't done any of the real economics on it,” said Dennis Regan, Aloe's project manager. “The first step is to get local permission, and then fill out the application (for mining) with the Department of Environmental Protection.”

Opponents question the noise and pollution that mining might generate, especially given that Upper St. Clair's Boyce Mayview Park wraps around three sides of the site.

The Upper St. Clair Citizens for Land Stewardship worked for several years to preserve the park for passive recreation, said Annette Shimer, a board member.

“Some of the trails are right next to where they would be mining,” she said. “For nearby residents and people at the (Upper St. Clair Community and Recreation Center), there's issues of noise and traffic. For us, there's issues of noise and disturbance of the quiet area that is Boyce Mayview Park.”

Upper St. Clair residents Ed Bailey Sr. and Ruth Bailey, whose property is adjacent to Boyce Mayview Park, said they worry about coal trucks leaving the site.

“Trucks going up Boyce Road, that's what I don't understand, with the rail lines right down there,” said Ed Bailey, 73. He'd suggest that the Aloes try test runs, supervised by state police, to see if large trucks could make the journey from the site to the interstate safely.

Ruth Bailey, 71, is concerned about the blasting, which Aloe representatives said would occur about twice a week, and traffic on Washington Pike.

South Fayette's traffic engineer, Ray Caruso, questioned the ability of coal trucks to navigate narrow intersections.

Regan said getting permission from DEP could take 18 months, meaning that mining could be years away.

The zoning board rejected Aloe's first application in March. The company missed the window for an appeal to Allegheny County Common Pleas Court and re-filed its application.

“Right now, the coal market is not too strong, but that's not to say that there isn't a market,” Regan said.

Two bulldozers and a front-end loader would dig pits, and blasting would remove rock to get at the coal seam about 12 feet below surface.

Each pit would be filled with soil from the next one dug. An estimated 400,000 to 1 million tons of Pittsburgh Seam coal could be recoverable, Regan said.

At indexed prices of about $62.65 per ton for low-sulfur coal, or $56.65 per ton for coal with a higher sulfur content, that would result in a decent profit if it's as easy to dig up as the owners estimate, experts said.

“I know the Aloes, and they wouldn't be doing (the mining) if it wasn't worth it,” said Jack Porco, president and chief operating officer of Latrobe-based Xcoal Energy & Resources LLC, which buys coal from mines and sells it around the world.

Though environmental regulations and competition from natural gas have depressed the coal market, he said, it is likely to remain stable for a few years.

Matthew Santoni is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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