Finally, after eight years, Duke Lake is coming back to Ryerson Station State Park.
It’s been a long wait – too long in our opinion – for the parties involved to finally reach an agreement.
Last Wednesday, a pact was announced between the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Consol Energy Inc., a deal in which Consol will pay $36 million to replace the dam and will give DCNR eight parcels of land it owns adjacent to the park containing 506 acres.
Moreover, the $36 million will be adequate to complete all the work that needs to be done, and the addition to park property of the eight parcels will increase the size of the 1,164-acre park by 40 percent. The company will be able to drill for natural gas beneath the park using horizontal drilling, but only from well pads outside park boundaries.
This issue has been contentious and litigious from the outset. When expanding cracks in the 45-year-old concrete dam at Ryerson forced DCNR in July 2005 to drain the lake and remove part of the dam, DCNR filed a claim against Consol, maintaining the damage was caused by subsidence from Consol’s Bailey Mine, which was undertaking longwall mining near the park.
The state Department of Environmental Protection investigated and determined the damage was caused by mining. It ordered Consol to restore the dam. Consol denied its mining activities were to blame, and appealed DEP’s decision to the state Environmental Hearing Board, where the case was scheduled for trial next month.
The blame game went on for years until Thomas A. Rutter, a mediator in the case, suggested Consol pay to restore the lake in return for being able to drill for natural gas beneath the park, but only from properties outside the park.
We could not agree more with a comment made by state Sen. Tim Solobay, who categorized the agreement as a triumph of collaboration over confrontation. And a comment we found surprising, but refreshing, came from Tommy Johnson, vice president of government affairs and public relations for Consol: “We set aside who was wrong and who was right and agreed to chart a new course. It has been a journey; we’ve had some twists and turns, but here we are celebrating what is a tremendous win for all of us.”
Solobay said the people who worked this out were committed to avoiding an ugly and drawn-out battle and to restoring Duke Lake as quickly as possible. “Instead of dropping their gloves, they rolled up their sleeves. You get more done that way.”
While everyone was talking in friendly terms at the news conference last week, the Center for Coalfield Justice, which intervened in the case before the hearing board, said that although it was pleased to hear the lake will be restored, it was disappointed Consol was not taking full responsibility for the damage.
But Consol is paying up. Let it rest.
It was announced that the dam won’t be operational until 2017, assuming no unforeseen circumstances arise. But we have waited eight years for a resolution. We think we can wait just another four years before we can once again fish in Duke Lake.