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Tunnelton Liquids cleanup plan to be presented

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
 

The state Department of Environmental Protection will present a cleanup plan on Tuesday for a wastewater disposal pond along the Conemaugh River at the border of Indiana and Westmoreland counties.

A public hearing will be at 6:30 p.m. at the Tunnelton Volunteer Fire Department, 76 E. Third Ave. in Tunnelton.

The DEP invoked the state's Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act to take over the former Tunnelton Liquids Co.

The site includes a holding pond with treated leachate from a coal refuse disposal area and wastewater from oil and gas drilling activities.

The company ceased operation on April 17, the DEP said.

“We're very concerned about some of those materials in the pond escaping over the riverbank and possibly entering the river,” DEP spokesman John Poister said. “They literally just shut the gates and walked away.”

Messages left on the company's answering machine on Tuesday were not returned.

The company, which was formed to treat acid mine drainage from an abandoned deep mine, had been accepting Marcellus shale wastewater until state regulators asked it to cease. In a May 2011 letter, the federal Environmental Protection Agency told the company that injection of acid mine drainage with “oil field brine” is not authorized.

Poister said some work has been done at the site.

“The agency believes that there is an imminent threat to human health and the environment if the water and sludge from a pond on the site were to overflow into the river, which is why we have taken this action. We have already begun some preliminary work there,” he said.

During the hearing, officials will explain the work that will be done, hold a question-and-answer session and accept testimony from area residents who want their concerns included in the official record.

Anyone who wants to be placed on the agenda may contact the DEP office in Pittsburgh at 412-442-4203.

There will be an opportunity to register at the fire department before the hearing, and the DEP will accept written comments until Aug. 22.

Melissa Reckner, director of the Conemaugh Valley Conservancy's stream team whose mission is to enhance and restore the Kiski-Conemaugh River Basin, said she is anxious to hear the cleanup plans.

“I wish we would have heard about this meeting a lot sooner, but we are very concerned about it. We do understand the (DEP's) understaffing and funding concerns, but waiting two months before presenting a formal plan and just letting a company walk away from a problem is unacceptable ... particularly given the wet spring we had here,” she said.

“We are water-rich in Pennsylvania, which is what makes Pennsylvania such a great state, but we've got to take better care of this valuable resource. We'll be anxious to hear what the exact plans are,” she said.

Poister said he believes that the state “will go after” the company in an attempt to recoup cleanup costs.

“But our main and immediate concern at this point is the cleanup of the pond on that property and making sure it does not go into the Conemaugh,” he said.

“As soon as we finalize the plan and take into consideration all the public comment and questions, we'll let a contract and have them go right to work on it. But ... we've been up there literally every day and have already done some preliminary work,” he said.

Those unable to attend the meeting can send comments in writing to: Terry Goodwald, Project Manager, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, 400 Waterfront Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15222.

For more information, go to www.depweb.state.pa.us

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or at ppeirce@tribweb.com.

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