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Westmoreland

Environmental group appeals coal mine permit on Fayette-Westmoreland border

Paul Peirce
| Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, 6:15 p.m.

A Fayette County-based conservation group Friday appealed a state Department of Environmental Protection decision to permit an underground deep mine along Fayette's border with Westmoreland County.

Last month, DEP granted permission to LCT Energy LP of Johnstown to discharge water from its proposed 2,886-acre underground deep mine spanning Donegal Township in Westmoreland and Saltlick in Fayette. The company's plans call for the water to go into Champion Creek, a tributary of Indian Creek, which flows in the Youghiogheny River.

The appeal by the Mountain Watershed Association contends that the DEP-permitted barriers for the mine will not prevent illicit discharges into the watershed and that DEP did not adequately review the proposal. It claims the mining plan will threaten the Indian Creek Watershed.

For more than two years, the watershed association opposed the mining plan, arguing that state taxpayers had spent several million dollars in recent years cleaning up the watershed.

“By issuing this permit, DEP has disregarded volumes of expert opinion submitted by our organization regarding the threats posed by this mine,” said Beverly Braverman, executive director of the watershed association. “For example, our experts have expressed concern that LCT's proposed 500 foot (safety) barrier is inadequate to prevent toxic metals and polutional mine drainage.”

A requirement of the permit is that a 500-foot “No Mining Before Drill Verification” safety barrier must be placed adjacent to the known extent of mining for the Melcroft #3 Mine. It also orders the energy company to employ methods and technologies “to prevent adverse hydrologic or water quality impacts that could result from conducting operations within 100 feet of Champion Creek.”

The company has maintained at numerous public meetings that its project is environmentally sound and its discharge plans “meet or exceed Pennsylvania DEP regulations.”

The appeal before the state Environmental Review Board also maintains that the same water pollution was predicted by DEP in 1994 when it denied the Rand Am deep mine proposal in the same area. The Rustic Ridge mine shares a portion of its footprint with the Rand Am proposal, Braverman noted.

DEP's denial of the Rand Am mine was upheld by the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board in 1996.

LCT Energy officials could not be reached for comment.

The Indian Creek Valley Water Authority, which provides water to about 2,700 customers, said Indian Creek is one of its four sources for drinking water.

The mine would be between 176 and 625 feet below the surface and have an estimated life of 18 years. The mining operation would employ more than 120 people and generate an estimated 258 truckloads of coal per day, according to the company.

In 2014, LCT Energy officials said the mine would be a $50 million project and infuse about $120 million into the economy.

Plans for constructing the mine are a “little bit up in the air,” a spokesman for Robindale Energy & Associated Companies of Armagh, an affiliate of LCT Energy, said earlier this month.

The timing for the development of the mine, which will produce metallurgical coal used in the domestic and foreign steel industries, will depend on market factors, the spokesman said.

Members of the Champion-based watershed group and others opposed to Rustic Ridge Mine protested a company-sponsored community informational dinner Thursday at the Chestnut Ridge Community Center in Donegal.

The company expects to take about nine months to develop the mine and will employ between 100 and 120 workers, the spokesman said.

Residents also are concerned about increased traffic on local roads. Coal trucks traveling down Three Mile Hill on Route 31 into Mt. Pleasant could pose a danger, opponents have said.

A hearing date has not been scheduled on the state hearing board's docket.

Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2860 or ppeirce@tribweb.com.

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