Environmental journalists visit waste coal site near Fredericktown
A group of about 35 people, including journalists, academics and members of the trade press, toured the "lower gob pile" overlooking Fredericktown in East Bethlehem Township on Thursday.
The steep gray pile of waste coal looms over Fredericktown in stark contrast to the green of the nearby landscape along the Monongahela River.
For locals, it’s not just an eyesore but a nuisance that washes into the streets, clogs stormwater drains and sends acid mine runoff into the watershed.
“That’s one of the issues here, erosion,” said Thomas Malesky, environmental program manager for the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation. “It’s been getting in people’s backyards and on the streets.”
About 35 people – including journalists, academics, members of the trade media and government officials – stopped at the 2 ½ million-ton pile Thursday morning during a tour for some participants in the Society of Environmental Journalists’ 27th annual conference, held in Pittsburgh this year.
During the East Bethlehem stop, the group had the chance to speak with DEP officials and township secretary Maryann Kubacki about the issues surrounding abandoned mine lands like the 45-acre, privately owned pile, designated the Black Dog Hollow site by the state.
The Black Dog Hollow project was among 14 abandoned mine land reclamation projects across the state that Gov. Tom Wolf’s office announced in July 2016. The projects will be funded through a $30 million allotment Pennsylvania received under the federal AML Pilot program.
DEP officials said as part of the plans at the East Bethlehem site, contractors will demolish a “hazardous structure” left over from the conveyor system, grade the pile to make it more stable, and mix bauxite residue – an alkaline material – into the top 24 inches of the coal refuse. “There’s a lot of clay material in this pile, and it’s just a matter of sweetening it up to make a growing medium,” Malesky said.
He said officials could seek bids on the two contracts invovled in the project by the spring of 2018, “if all goes well.” He said construction wtill take two or three years once it begins.
“We have to secure some final permitting, so the timeline’s going to be based on that,” Malesky said.
The waste pile built up over the years during operations at the Clyde Mine, which first opened in the early 1900s. The mine’s last owner, LTV Steel Corp., went bankrupt in 2002.
“(Refuse) was probably dumped on here, I’m going to say, until the ’40s or ’50s,” said Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation director Eric Cavazza. At that point, miners built a conveyor system that brought the slag over a nearby hill into a hollow. That site, home to about 16 million tons of waste coal, has since been reclaimed.
But the older and smaller of the two, known as the “lower gob pile” to locals, is still mostly barren. The nearest home is about 100 feet from its base; 60 homes are within 500 feet.
Kubacki was only aware of one injury to an all-terrain vehicle rider but said local officials receive frequent complaints about noise from ATVs and dirt bikes at the site.
“It’s been a headache to deal with, absolutely,” Kubacki said.