Officials reveal Mather coal dump reclamation plans

August 7, 2014
John Stefanko, a state Department of Environmental Protection deputy secretary, speaks at a ceremony at the Mather coal refuse dump on plans to reclaim the site using sediment from the now-dry Duke Lake. - Bob Niedbala / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

MATHER – A project that will complete the reclamation of the 70-acre Mather coal refuse pile and benefit another long-awaited project in the western part of Greene County, the restoration of Duke Lake at Ryerson Station State Park, was announced Thursday by state and local elected officials.

Officials with the Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources unveiled a plan under which sediment that must be removed from the bottom of the now-dry Duke Lake as the part of the lake restoration project will be trucked to Mather and used to reclaim the gray slate surface of the refuse dump.

“Today, we’ve come up with a project that DEP spearheaded in conjunction with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to get this site reclaimed,” said John Stefanko, DEP deputy secretary for active and abandoned mine operations, speaking in front of the erosion-pitted coal waste pile.

The refuse dump has been an eyesore and safety hazard to the community for many years, Stefanko said. The Mather Mine, which created it, was abandoned 50 years ago, he said. “It’s hard to believe it has been around that long; it’s nice to be at a point we can finally do something about it.”

Removal of the sediment from the lake bed at Ryerson will be a “milestone” in efforts to rebuild the dam and restore the lake, said DCNR Secretary Ellen Ferretti, who also spoke. DCNR had to find a place to take the sediment. “Through this collaboration, we are able to do that and help complete this abandoned mine reclamation project,” she said.

The lake has been dry for nine years, since 2005 when inspections revealed cracks in its concrete dam, caused, according to DEP, by mining in the area. DCNR and Consol Energy announced a settlement last year that will result in the replacement of the dam.

DCNR is now completing the permitting process for the new dam and still believes it can have the lake restored in the summer of 2017, Ferretti said.

DEP awarded a $1,592,773 contract to reclaim the Mather site to Berner Construction Co. of Gap. It also will provide about $2 million to transport the sediment from Ryerson to Mather. The refuse pile reclamation project is funded by a federal Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation grant. The soil removal at Duke Lake will be completed with money DCNR received in the settlement from Consol.

The Mather slate dump has been in existence in one form or another for more than 95 years, taking into account the Mather Mine started operations in 1917. Part of the site has been reclaimed through an effort started by Greene County Industrial Development Authority in 2001, which was halted several years later for lack of funding.

The dump has areas where coal continues to burn or smolder, said John Poister, DEP spokesman. That will be extinguished as part of the project. Deep cuts in the refuse pile also present a hazard to people riding ATVs or walking in the area, he said.

The site will be graded, compacted and covered with two feet of sediment excavated from Duke Lake. About 250,000 cubic yards of soil from Ryerson will be used at the site.

Sediment from the lake has been tested. “It’s good soil and it’s going to make a good ground cover,” Poister said.

The project also includes plans to stabilize the bank of Ten Mile Creek, which runs along one side of the property.

State Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Jefferson, who was credited with initiating what should be final effort to reclaim the Mather dump, spoke of the collaboration between DEP and DCNR in developing a plan to address the two projects.

“This is truly a partnership, and it does my heart good. I know that with DEP and DCNR in charge of these two projects, they will both reach fruition,” Snyder said.

“The people of Ryerson and the West Greene community deserve to have that lake back, they’ve waited a long time,” Snyder said. “And the people of Mather and the Jefferson-Morgan community deserve to have this gone, they have waited even longer.”

Snyder also thanked Joe Simatic, chairman of the Greene County Industrial Development Authority board, for the efforts the authority made in the past to reclaim the site. “They did what they could with the resources they had,” she said. “We’re now going to bring it to the finish line.”

State Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, also spoke at the ceremony about the importance of the plan in resolving problems regarding two local projects. “Being able to do something like we’re talking about today is the ideal scenario,” he said.

Bob Niedbala worked as a general assignment reporter for the newspaper for 27 years in the Greene County bureau. He received a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Pittsburgh.

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