An agreement between Amfire Mining and the state Department of Environmental Protection is coming together with plans that would clean up one or more acid mine drainage sites spewing significant amounts of pollution into the Little Conemaugh River.
The Hughes Borehole, an artesian well, is draining 7,300 acres of the abandoned and flooded Lower Kittanning deep mine area. It spews, on average, 800 gallons per minute of AMD into the Little Conemaugh, topping the list of mine drainage sites there.
And if all goes as planned, a number of AMD sites closer to Portage also may be included in a treatment system proposed using a contribution of more than $5 million from Amfire, a Latrobe-based mining company.
“This will really help improve the Little Conemaugh River from Lilly down,” said Dennis Beck of Portage, a member of the Cambria County Conservation District Board. “We would get the discharges cleaned up at no cost to the taxpayers.”
In return for the $5.6 million payment into a trust fund through a consent order and agreement with DEP, Amfire will be granted an extension of a mining permit allowing it to tap into highly sought metallurgic coal in Cresson Township.
Amfire did not create the acid drainage problem, but Brian Turk, the company’s director of government and external affairs, said it is willing to pay into the trust fund so it can mine the Upper Freeport coal seam at the site known as the Cresson Mine.
“The (Hughes) Borehole is not owned by Amfire. We didn’t cause it. We didn’t control it,” Turk said. “It (the consent order and agreement) was a requirement for us to have access (to the Cresson Mine.)”
The agreement came out of a concern of DEP’s that developing the Cresson Mine, located in near the Hughes No. 2 mine, the source of the borehole, could create a “hydrologic connection,” between the two and potentially add to the amount of water emerging from the artesian discharge.
State law disallows any additions to the discharge, and DEP’s hydrologist anticipated some of the water from the Cresson Mine might come in touch with the Hughes Borehole, Turk said.
The Hughes No. 2 mine was operated by the C.A. Hughes Coal Co. from 1923 to 1953, and there is no existing person or company responsible for treating the discharge, according to information published in a public notice by Amfire.
Turk said Amfire would not be building and operating the plant, just paying money into the trust fund.
Seeking to capitalize on the Amfire money, the state and others hope some other discharges closer to Portage can be included in the proposed treatment system, Beck said.
A large discharge in the Sonman area and several discharges around Miller Shaft, all located in Portage Township, are being considered.
“DEP is looking to combine mine pools and build one treatment facility,” Beck said.
Amfire first proposed opening the Cresson Mine about a decade ago as part of a SunCoke plant proposal for the Ebensburg area. Those plans, which would have created 750 jobs, were shelved when environmentalists raised concerns over sulfur and soot emissions.
Construction of the coke plant got tied up in court, the coal market softened and talk of opening the Cresson Mine died down.
The Amfire deal is a smaller version of a pact reached among the DEP, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Rosebud Mining of Kittanning to build a treatment plant at St. Michael that will treat a significant AMD drainage into Topper Run and the Little Conemaugh.
Topper Run is responsible for 30 percent of the AMD pollution into the Little Conemaugh while the Hughes Borehole is releasing just less than 8 percent, according to the Western Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation.
The Sonman discharge is releasing less than 10 percent.
DEP spokesman John Poister said details of the consent order and agreement with Amfire are still being worked out.
“The agreement is somewhat similar to the agreement reached with Rosebud Mining for treatment of the AMD discharge in St. Michael in that it will allow them access to coal reserves,” Poister said. “We are still determining the best option for the treatment of the discharge.
Rosebud expects to start operation in May of a $14 million treatment plant that will pull much of the pollution from a mine discharge behind the St. Michael fire hall, said John Garcia, Rosebud director of government affairs.
Rosebud’s investment likely will top $50 million and will provide a trust fund for perpetual water treatment at the site.
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