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LCT Energy LP of Johnstown applies to open deep coal mine in Westmoreland, Fayette counties

| Wednesday, July 16, 2014, 10:42 p.m.

A Cambria County-based mining company has filed an application with the state Department of Environmental Protection to open a deep mine in Westmoreland and Fayette counties.

LCT Energy LP of Johnstown wants to open Rustic Ridge Mine to extract millions of tons of metallurgical coal over the next 15 to 20 years.

An environmental group is concerned that the operation will pollute nearby Indian and Champion creeks, and Saltlick supervisors have requested a public hearing.

LCT proposes to mine more than 2,900 acres in Saltlick and Donegal townships that contain 18 million tons of metallurgical coal, or “coking coal,” which is used in steel production. The United States is one of the top five metallurgical coal producers in the world, along with China, Russia, Australia and India.

Company officials said they would invest $50 million in the project that would 120 jobs and infuse $200 million into the local economy.

DEP spokesman John Poister said LCT Energy submitted its application on June 20. He said the agency's review of the environmental and technical aspects of the project will take some time.

“It's a detailed process,” Poister said.

LCT Energy published the first of four public notices of its intent to mine in the region known as the Indian Creek Coalfield, which lies within the Indian Creek Watershed. A public comment period will begin within 30 days after the final notice is published on July 28. The DEP has 60 days to respond to the permit request before a public hearing can be held.

Poister said the Saltlick supervisors this week requested the hearing, which could be held in September or October.

Gregory Grimm, supervisor chairman, said the township board asked for the hearing out of caution.

“I think it would be good for the citizens of our township to have an opportunity to hear the DEP's views on how (the permit) is going to be enforced,” Grimm said. “There is the possibility of water pollution. The coal company would have some sort of treatment ponds on-site. We want to hear how effective it will be and whether it will have any effect on our residents.”

The Mountain Watershed Association, an environmental group, contends that part of the proposed project is within an area that another company wanted to mine, but its application was rejected by the DEP.

Beverly Braverman, director of the environmental group, said the mine would lie at the headwaters of the watershed, which is the “gateway to the Laurel Highlands,” a popular tourist and recreational area.

For decades, Indian Creek has been polluted by acid mine drainage from abandoned mines that flows into the Youghiogheny River, Braverman said, noting that $7 million in federal, state and private money has been spent cleaning up the pollution.

She said the state spent $400,000 more to clean up pollution caused by the 2013 collapse of Melcroft Mine 1 along Route 711 in Fayette County. The flooding overwhelmed a treatment plant, which cost $305,000 to repair.

Braverman contends the company's proposal is “fraught with inadequacies and inaccurate information,” including a list of properties within the project that the company has not obtained leases for.

Gil Widenhofer, LCT's vice president of acquisition and property development, said it is not uncommon for a company to list properties within the boundary of the mining area that are not leased or owned by the applicant.

“LCT will not conduct mining in properties where it does not have the necessary mining rights,” Widenhofer said in response to questions via email.

He said the company will address any questions the DEP has concerning acid mine drainage. Widenhofer said LCT addressed the problems cited by the state before submitting the permit application.

LCT Energy is part of a series of companies that include Robindale Coal Sales, Lehigh Anthracite LP, Power Coal & Coke, RES Coal and Sunbury Generation.

Partners in LCT Energy are Jaz Ventures in Latrobe, the Hans J. Mende Revocable Trust and Tanoma Energy in Latrobe, according to the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

The DEP has seen “a small increase” in deep mining permit applications, Poister said.

“That's not an indication about the coal market itself,” he said. “It's more of a bump in the timing because of some anticipated demand for metallurgical coal. The anecdotal knowledge that I have in Southwest Pennsylvania is there might be three or four applications, and they're all for metallurgical coal.”

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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