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Westmoreland

Watershed association seeks remedy for mine drainage in Turtle Creek

Patrick Varine
| Monday, June 11, 2018, 5:00 p.m.
Turtle Creek was not stocked with trout in 2018 due to runoff from abandoned mines in the area. Fish & Boat officials concluded that stocked trout would not be able to survive in the water.
Submitted photo
Turtle Creek was not stocked with trout in 2018 due to runoff from abandoned mines in the area. Fish & Boat officials concluded that stocked trout would not be able to survive in the water.
Turtle Creek was not stocked with trout in 2018 due to runoff from abandoned mines in the area. Fish & Boat officials concluded that stocked trout would not be able to survive in the water.
Submitted photo
Turtle Creek was not stocked with trout in 2018 due to runoff from abandoned mines in the area. Fish & Boat officials concluded that stocked trout would not be able to survive in the water.

Turtle Creek Watershed Association officials are determined to divert mine drainage from the Turtle Creek, and a piece of Export-owned property in Murrysville could be the key.

Jason McCabe, environmental program manager for the Turtle Creek Watershed Association , said the association was seeking a grant from a $12.6 million fund created through environmental violation fines assessed to Sunoco's Mariner East II pipeline project.

“When they mined the coal out of Export, they actually connected almost all of the mines in the Irwin Syncline via underground tunnels,” McCabe said.

The Irwin Syncline is a large geological formation running from Export south to the Smithton area.

“There are only four (mines) that aren't connected, and three of them are in the Export area,” he continued. “The reason they're not connected is that when they built the railroad through Export to ship the coal out, they left a pillar of coal that runs directly underneath the railroad.”

Pollutants draining from those mines enters into Turtle Creek, which runs through 74 acres owned by Export just across the Murrysville line, near the intersection of Borland Farm Road and Old William Penn Highway.

In order to file a complete grant application, watershed officials had to secure a letter of commitment or a landowner agreement from Export, which its solicitor advised against.

“We can't go forward this vaguely,” Long told council members at their June 5 meeting.

Borough officials said they are happy to help rid the Turtle Creek Watershed of pollutants. But they aren't going to accept responsibility for maintaining a solution that hadn't been officially proposed yet.

“Without knowing what we're agreeing to, I can't recommend that my clients sign off on this, because we don't know what it means,” borough solicitor Wes Long said.

The majority of the Irwin Syncline mines drain into Brush Creek — where the drainage has turned the water a bright orange color in places — however the underground pillar supporting the above-ground rail bed acts as a wall, cutting off mine-drainage discharge from the very top of the syncline.

“Our original plan was to run a pipe that would connect the pillar-separated areas to the rest of the Irwin Syncline drainage,” McCabe said. “This parcel was perfect for this grant application, and unfortunately we just couldn't get the sign-off from Export,” he said.

But the association isn't done trying.

“With this grant application, we were given a relatively short window to get our ducks in a row,” McCabe said. “There are a lot of other properties we can pursue, given time.”

And the association is still willing to work with Export officials on the Borland Farm Road property. McCabe said if it comes to fruition, it could conceivably serve as a pilot study for other discharges within the Turtle Creek Watershed.

“There are other grants out there,” McCabe said. “The Mariner East grants just happened to be a perfect scenario … We'd love to revisit it.”

In the meantime, the association will pursue a Mariner East II grant for a stream and wetland restoration project on a section of Bushy Run, a tributary to Brush Creek.

“We've got a number of projects in the hopper,” McCabe said.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862, pvarine@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.

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