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Despite losing ruling, township seeks mining compromise

| Wednesday, May 9, 2012, 1:58 a.m.

Ligonier Township officials are negotiating a compromise with a mining company in spite of a court ruling that stripped their control over a planned coal mine near Darlington.

Supervisors and officials of Amerikohl Mining Inc. have agreed to 14 conditions to regulate the surface mining operation the firm plans to operate on a 71-acre parcel off of Youngstown Ridge Road.

"We've approved a resolution to alter what was in place before, and we are OK to go ahead and sign it," Supervisor Keith Whipkey said. "It's the best we could do, and we can only hope for the best."

Supervisors had imposed 32 requirements on a conditional-use permit they issued for the project last year.

Amerikohl appealed 11 of the conditions to Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court. President Judge Daniel J. Ackerman upheld the appeal and struck down all the conditions last month.

"With the court ruling, Amerikohl was under no obligation to do anything," Whipkey said.

The Butler County-based mining company requested a meeting with supervisors to hammer out some new terms.

"They told us some things they would like, and we told them some things that we were willing to live with," Amerikohl attorney David C. Pohland said. "We didn't want to upset people or make the supervisors' job any tougher than it already is."

Some of the new conditions drew little dispute from Amerikohl because they simply call for compliance with state and federal regulations.

"Of course they're going to obey all state and federal laws," Pohland said.

Amerikohl also agreed to address one of the supervisors' biggest concerns -- truck traffic.

Two of the 14 conditions focus on keeping motorists alert when coal trucks begin traveling from the mine.

Signs will be posted at or near the mine site and at the intersection of Darlington and Youngstown Ridge roads.

PennDOT also will be asked to install a temporary flashing sign to alert eastbound Route 30 motorists to slow-moving vehicles pulling onto the highway from Idlewild Hill Road.

"Amerikohl wants the signs there, too," Pohland said. "They want people to be aware that big, heavy trucks are going to be pulling out. They have no desire to see their trucks involved in accidents."

Visibility is greater westbound, but officials say the uphill grade leaves only 615 feet of sight distance in Route 30's eastbound lanes.

That's one foot within the state Department of Transportation's sight distance guidelines, "which is sufficient room to stop if you're traveling at 55 miles per hour," Pohland said.

Because some motorists exceed speed limits, the plan calls for a sign that would flash when trucks are crossing.

"We all agreed that, if you have a sign that's flashing all the time, no one is going to pay attention to it after the first time or two," Pohland said.

Will it be enough?

"I'll tell you after it's over," Whipkey said. "If there are no accidents, no fatalities, then yes. But this was the one condition that I really lost sleep over, and the judge took away our ability to provide even that level of protection to our residents."

Other conditions on the new list address hours of mining operations, testing of water supplies, blasting activities, lighting, noise, safety equipment and dust control. Amerikohl also has agreed to restrict hauling during hours when school buses are normally on the road.

"A lot of the conditions they agreed to were to Amerikohl's benefit, too," Whipkey said.

As for conditions that didn't make the cut, "those will be things that the DEP is going to have to monitor," he said.

But with the promise of more mining plans heading their way, supervisors expect to consult a mining regulations expert to determine whether revisions to the township ordinance could provide better protections for residents.

"We sure don't want to have to go back to court," Whipkey said.

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