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Plans under way to clean up acid mine pool in Greene County

| Sunday, Aug. 10, 2003

A multimillion-dollar project is in play to contain a Greene County mine pool filled with acidic drainage before it overflows and pollutes Dunkard Creek and the Monongahela River.

Drainage from the Shannopin mine pool has already closed a neighboring mine and threatens to flood another.

Bill Pasio, district mining engineer for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, based in California, Pa., said his office is in the final stages of reviewing a permit application for the remediation project.

"I would anticipate something in September," he said of the final decision.

The project represents an innovative and complex partnership among the state, Dana Mining Inc., whose operation is threatened by the flooding, and AMD Reclamation Inc., which has ties to an electric power company.

Those involved in the project say that the mine pool would overflow and create an economic and environmental disaster within three years if nothing were to be done.

Drainage from the abandoned Shannopin mine in the Pittsburgh coal seam has already shut down one Dana Mining operation in the Sewickley seam. If the underground flooding is allowed to continue, it could threaten the entire seam, resulting in the loss of billions of dollars in future revenues.

Even worse, acid drainage from the mine, located at the bottom of Bobtown Hill, would spill over into Dunkark Creek and continue downstream to pollute the Monongahela River.

State agencies recently approved $4.3 million in low-interest PennVest loans for the project, as well as an outright $500,000 grant. Dana is also committing to spend millions of dollars to save its operation in the Sewickley seam.

Both state Sen. Barry Stout, a Bentleyville Democrat, and state Rep. Bill DeWeese, a Waynesburg Democrat, who represent the area, have been supporters of the project.

James Laurita Jr., Dana Mining's president, said the company couldn't have afforded the remediation on its own. He said, with the state's help, "it looks like it's doable."

The remediation will be overseen by AMD Reclamation. The plan is to direct 5 million gallons of flow each day through a lime treatment and an aerator that injects carbon dioxide bubbles to raise the pH to an acceptable level.

Iron oxide, the orange in the acid mine drainage, would also be removed from the flow before the water is discharged into Dunkard Creek.

AMD Reclamation is a private, nonprofit entity, but it has ties with Massachusetts-based GenPower LLC, which may build a coal-fired power plant in Maidsville, W.Va.

In several years, the treated flow from the Shannopin mine pool could be directed to this plant. The treated water would be used in the power plant's boiler to generate steam. Somewhere down the line, the treated water could also be sold to other power plants to help pay for the treatment that may have to continue in perpetuity.

The proposed GenPower plant couldn't be built until around 2007, if economic conditions warrant its construction.

But AMD hopes to build the treatment facility by early next yeat.

"The key thing is to clean the water up first," said Christopher Colbert, president of AMD Reclamation.

Colbert said using the treated water in an electric power plant wouldn't generate any air added pollution. The plant is also designed to run more efficiently and therefore with less pollution, he said.

There have been public hearings on the proposal. Bud Moody, a Dunkard Township supervisor, said residents haven't voiced much concern over the possibility of using the treated water in a power plant.

"We're just happy it's being treated," he said.

Moody also expressed hopes that someday the Shannopin mine itself might be able to be reopened.

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