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State to clean up Banning Mine

| Thursday, Sept. 4, 2003

ROSTRAVER TOWNSHIP - Using Pennsylvania's share of a settlement with LTV Steel Co. Inc., state environmental officials will set up a $25 million trust fund to continue cleanup efforts at the bankrupt company's former steel and coal sites in the region.

Among those sites is the Banning Mine facility outside of West Newton in Rostraver Township, where state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty announced Wednesday that the state had secured the funds as part of the recently approved $29 million settlement that also involves Ohio, Indiana and the city of Chicago.

"The value and future of these communities depends on these assets," she said. "This is a huge victory for southwest Pennsylvania. It's a huge victory for Pennsylvania as a whole."

At the Banning Mine alone, roughly 4 million gallons of mine drainage are processed each day, according to DEP spokeswoman Betsy Mallison.

Bruce Golden, regional coordinator for the Western Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation, said that processing keeps iron-rich groundwater from polluting the nearby Youghiogheny River and flooding West Newton.

If not cleaned, the mine drainage would form a slimy coating on the river bottom, Golden added.

"It smothers everything," he said.

Along with treating polluted mine drainage, the trust fund will be used to reclaim mine lands and perform other environmental cleanup activities at the eight sites formerly used by the bankrupt company. LTV operated three steel-manufacturing plants, two coal refuse disposal areas and three underground coal mines in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Coal is used to make coke, an integral ingredient in steel production.

Along with the Banning Mine, LTV used to operate the Clyde Mine in East Bethlehem Township, Washington County; the Russellton Mine and a nearby coal refuse pile in West Deer Township, Allegheny County; and the Nemacolin coal refuse pile in Nemacolin, Greene County.

LTV used to be one of the nation's largest steelmakers. In December 2000, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. About a year later, LTV officials declared that shares of the company's common stock were worthless.

For decades, LTV had been pumping water from its mine pools to prevent polluted runoff from getting into the watersheds of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers.

In March 2002, the DEP ordered LTV to address its water treatment and land reclamation obligations. But the cleanup order was projected to cost more than the $25 million the company had earmarked for such work.

There were some other environmental issues to resolve in other states, as well.

roughly a year and a half, the case was under discussion. In mid-August, a $29 million settlement was approved in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Youngstown, Ohio.

A lawyer representing the bankrupt steel company could not be reached for comment yesterday afternoon.

As of Monday, the DEP took over responsibility for treating drainage and runoff at the former steelmaker's coal sites in the region.

Roughly $2 million already had been set aside for the cleanup work at the former LTV sites. McGinty said some of that money still is available. She said the DEP likely will begin using money generated by the trust fund in 2005.

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