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Maple Creek recalls 150

| Saturday, Dec. 4, 2004

Approximately 150 miners were back on the job early Friday at Maple Creek Mining's Fallowfield Township mines.

The company laid off 500 miners Nov. 13 after the state Department of Environmental Protection ordered cessation of longwall mining in an area beneath a tributary of Maple Creek, saying it would result in a loss of water flow to the stream.

This week, Environmental Hearing Board Administrative Law Judge Bernard A. Labuskes Jr. denied Maple Creek's request for an injunction that would have allowed mining to resume in Panel 6 East pending the company's appeal of the DEP order.

A hearing on the DEP order will be held at a future date.

On Friday, however, about 30 percent of the workforce returned to the mine, but in a different panel.

Mike Gardner, chief counsel for Maple Creek, confirmed that the workers are mining the outer edge, or picture frame, of Panel 9 East.

Two continuous mining machines are being operated. The area is not being longwall mined, said Gardner, noting the company is not conducting full extraction of the coal.

Room and pillar mining is not an option, Gardner said, noting that form is not routinely used in the Pittsburgh seam of coal located in southwestern Pennsylvania.

There are two forms of coal mining.

In the room and pillar method, rooms are cut into the coal bed leaving a series of pillars, or columns, of coal to help support the mine roof and control air flow.

Longwall mining involves total extraction of the coal. Such walls are not left behind.

Maple Creek Mining has conducted longwall mining in the township since fall 2003. It planned to mine 2,130 acres through 2008.

State Act 54 of 1994 allows coal companies to mine beneath homes and other structures built before 1966, as long as property owners are compensated for subsidence damage and water loss.

Several homeowners have already experienced mine subsidence damage to their homes.

Gardner could not estimate how long mining will be conducted.

The resumption of mining occurred one day after company and DEP officials met in Harrisburg, DEP Press Secretary Kurt Knaus said. The DEP reiterated that the mine must abide by state laws.

Knaus said Maple Creek is still not permitted to longwall mine in Panel 6 East, but can mine panels 9 East through 12 East.

"Closing the mine was their choice, so opening it was a good choice," Knaus said.

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