There weren’t as many people and the decibels were significantly lower, but the South Franklin Township Municipal Building seemed just as crowded Wednesday afternoon as PNC Park the night before.
Nearly 50 local residents shoehorned into the modest meeting room for an informal hearing on plans by Consol Pennsylvania Coal to add 3,704 acres to its Enlow Fork Mine for underground mining and buffer areas for subsidence control. The land is in South Franklin, Buffalo and East Finley townships.
Consol Coal, a subsidiary of Consol Energy Inc., has submitted an application for the expansion to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
The format of the two-hour event was open house, with no group discussion. DEP employees spread similar maps, with the area of planned expansion outlined on each, across three tables and answered questions from residents who approached them.
Many live within the target area.
Known as an informal public conference, the event is an early aspect of the permitting process. The DEP said anyone with concerns about the plans could go on record by submitting them orally or in writing, as some did Wednesday.
Representatives of Consol and enviornmental groups were on hand, too.
Four environmental-related organizations (Chartiers Creek Watershed Association, Buffalo Creek Watershed Association, Izaac Walton League and Center for Coalfield Justice) and the owners of three private properties (Michael and Jodie Landis; Mark and Susan Mason; and John and Robin Ireland) requested the conference.
Patrick Grenter was impressed by the turnout. He is executive director of the Center for Coalfield Justice, a watchdog organization that addresses environmental issues related to fossil fuel extraction.
“I’d say this is a decent turnout despite the meeting being held at 1 o’clock on a workday,” he said. “People are very concerned about a project going into a populated area and wreaking havoc on property values and their communities.”
Robert Daley, a Buffalo resident, perused one of the maps with his wife, asked questions and appeared anxious when it couldn’t be determined whether his property was near a mining panel.
“My major concern is the location of my house with respect to a mining panel,” said Daley, who has been in his home for nearly 15 years. “If you’re on the edge of a panel, that’s where they have the worst damage. It’s (Consol’s) responsibility, of course, but that doesn’t make the hassle any less.”
Jim Arbore is a 30-year resident of Buffalo, where he is the zoning and code enforcement officer. He is a retired Trinity High School teacher and his wife, Beverly, is the superintendent of the McGuffey School District.
Consol Pennsylvania Coal’s plans may prove to be an education to them – primarily in science and economics.
“Like everyone else here, I want to know how this will affect my property and the enviornment,” Arbore said. “I have no issues. I’m taking kind of a wait-and-see approach to what happens.”
If the Arbores get a financial offer for their land, he said, “we may have a decision to make” on relocating.
Joel Koricich of the DEP opened the program with a short address to the audience. He said the application “is for developmental mining only, not longwall. But longwall mining surely will follow.”
The estimated life of this mine is nine years.
The expansion, called North Development II, would be north toward Interstate 79 from what are called the E and panels.