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Pennsylvania to use lake sediment to bury Greene County coal waste pile

| Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, 3:09 p.m.

Two state agencies have come up with one solution to two longstanding environmental problems in Pennsylvania's most southwestern county.

The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources plans to dig up sediment from the dry lake bed at Ryerson Station State Park, while the Department of Environmental Protection will use the dirt to bury a 70-acre coal waste pile that has bedeviled environmentalists since the mine that produced it closed 50 years ago.

The 62-acre Duke Lake was drained in 2005 because its dam was leaking. Sediment from the lake must be dug out so the lake and dam can be restored. And the resulting dirt is the perfect top layer to cover the Mather coal dump, state officials decided.

The plan was announced Thursday in Greene County at the Mather waste pile, about 40 miles south of Pittsburgh.

The mine has an infamous history as the site of the state's second-worst mining disaster, when 195 miners were killed on May 19, 1928. Investigators came to believe that methane gas and coal dust ignited, causing an explosion. Its environmental legacy isn't much prettier.

DEP spokesman John Poister said nothing can grow on the 100-foot-deep pile, which was abandoned along with the mine that produced it in 1964.

“You get up there, and it is like the surface of the moon,” Poister said.

The DCNR, meanwhile, has been dealing with the Ryerson dam problem for years. The agency sued Consol Energy claiming a study proved that longwall mining caused the earth to move and crack the dam, and last year reached a financial settlement that will result in its replacement.

Berner Construction Co. of Lancaster County will be paid $1.6 million to reclaim the coal pile by grading and compacting it, before burying it beneath 250,000 cubic yards — or more than 17,000 tri-axle truckloads — of silt from the lake bed. Another $2 million will be spent to dig up and move the dirt from the lake bed, which is about 30 miles west of the coal pile.

Berner is being paid with funds from a federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation grant, while the lake dredging will be paid for out of Consol's settlement with the DCNR.

DNCR secretary Ellen Ferretti called the deal “a milestone for moving forward with the restoration of Duke Lake.” She expects the lake to reopen by summer 2017.

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