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South Union site's coal mining is put on hold

| Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012

No coal will be mined from a South Union site until at least Jan. 27, under terms of an agreement reached in a hearing on Wednesday before a Fayette County judge.

South Union Township last month revoked a Dunbar Township coal company's mining-reclamation zoning certificate for the site off Route 40 and Matthew Drive in the Fayette County Business Park.

Supervisors last week filed a civil action seeking to stop work until after the company, Black Rock, applies for a new zoning certificate that will allow the township to address alleged hazards at the site.

Black Rock of 1107 University Drive is removing coal from the site for the owner, the Redevelopment Authority of Fayette County. The coal must be removed so the site can be developed.

Black Rock has authorization through the state Department of Environmental Protection for incidental coal removal from the site. The township alleges the amount of coal that has been mined exceeds initial estimates, rendering the site a full-scale strip mine.

During a hearing yesterday before Judge John F. Wagner Jr. on the township's request for a preliminary injunction seeking an immediate halt to mining operations, representatives for all three parties retired to an hourlong, closed-door session rather than argue in open court.

They emerged to report that all parties had agreed to allow Black Rock to remove a pile of coal that has been mined but to halt all other mining until at least Jan. 27. Between now and then, South Union attorney James Davis said the three sides will meet in an attempt to work out a new agreement.

The pile of coal is to be removed by Tuesday, Davis said.

Supervisor Bob Schiffbauer said he is pleased with the temporary halt on mining operations, but the township wants a permanent solution.

"We're not going to be satisfied until all the issues are addressed and remedied," Schiffbauer said. "This gives us extra time to address issues that are of grave concern to us."

Among those issues are the possibility of blasting at the site. Black Rock ran a legal ad in a newspaper indicating it intends to blast, but it has not yet obtained a DEP permit to do so, Davis said.

In an answer to the township's request for the injunction, Black Rock's attorney, John M. Ranker of Greensburg, argued the township does not have the power to regulate coal removal. He said such activities are under DEP's jurisdiction.

Ranker noted the request for the preliminary injunction fails to cite specific examples of alleged hazardous conditions at the site.

In a civil complaint attached to the preliminary injunction, Davis said those hazards include unprotected high walls and pits.

Representatives of the three parties agreed orally to the terms of the temporary halt to mining activities. A written order, to be signed by Wagner, is to follow.

Andrew French, redevelopment authority director, said that the goal of all parties is to have an agreement in place by Jan. 27 so that work can resume.

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