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Derry Township coal mine holds promise of jobs

Jeff Himler
| Friday, Aug. 17, 2012, 1:07 p.m.

Jobs at the new Kingston West coal mine in Derry Township could increase from 50 to more than 300 during an initial phase of development that could extend over a decade.

If additional phases are developed, that lifespan could expand threefold, mine developer Jim Cooper told an overflow crowd last Thursday at an informational meeting about the project in the Derry Township municipal building.

"I hope to have 20 to 30 years out of this mine," said Cooper, owner of Virginia-based C & D Coal Company. "The coal is there."

After more than three years in the planning and permitting stages, the deep mine could begin operation within three to six months, according to James Marino, project director for the site's engineering consultant, CME Engineering of Latrobe.

Initial earth-moving work has begun at the mine entrance off Route 981 and Lee Valley Road, and sedimentation ponds are in place to capture and treat runoff or any water pumped from the mine before it reaches tributaries to nearby Loyalhanna Creek.

C & D has obtained state permits for 10 surface acres at the entrance and 999 underground acres stretching mostly north and east toward Keystone State Park and the village of Superior.

The township supervisors set up last week's meeting so that the mining company and officials from the state Department of Environmental Protection could field questions about the project from concerned residents.

Echoing the comments of several others in the audience, Delano Beck, who lives along Route 981 about a quarter mile from the mine site, expressed concern about potential damage to his home and water supply.

Beck said he'd had a bad experience with blasting during a previous mining operation in the area.

"We lost our well last time, and the coal company wouldn't put it back," he said. "Our home really took a terrible blast."

Cooper said his company plans to conduct a minimum of blasting at Kingston West, noting it initially will be excavating down through the remains of a previous strip mine.

"We don't use dynamite unless it's an emergency," he said — for instance, if a rock fall would trap men or equipment in the mine. He said some blasting may also be required to smooth out a jagged overhang that was left from the previous mining operation and would otherwise pose a hazard to his mining crews.

Cooper said his company has mapped out the location of all known water wells in the permit area. In accordance with law, any such water source that is affected would have to be restored or replaced by the company.

Others in attendance were concerned about mine subsidence.

Cooper said the initial phase of mining will penetrate beneath an area with many homes. So, the company will be leaving sizable pillars to maintain roof support between the rooms left behind by coal extraction.

As a result, he said, "We're actually only getting 60 percent of the coal." Still, he estimated that could amount to a total of about 30 million tons.

He said the coal from Keystone West initially will be shipped to power plants but he hopes to add a coal cleaning plant at the site that would enable him to market it to the steel industry.

Cooper revealed that he is pursuing other potential coal mine sites in the Fairfield section of Westmoreland County and in the area of Chestnut Ridge, but permitting is not yet in place for those locations.

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