It was a mixed bag of major news stories last week in Greene County – some good news and some bad news.
Let’s first address the positive news.
For as long as we can remember, the Mather refuse dump has been an eyesore and safety hazard to the community. And for the last nine years, Duke Lake, once the primary recreational attraction at Ryerson Station State Park, remained dry after it was drawn down in July 2005 for safety reasons after inspections of the dam uncovered cracks and water seepage.
We learned last week there is a project on the table to complete the reclamation of the 70-acre Mather coal pile, and it would also help to restore the lake. The plans are to remove sediment from the bottom of the lake and truck it to Mather to reclaim the slate surface of the refuse dump.
Removal of sediment from the lakebed at Ryerson will be a “milestone” in efforts to rebuild the dam and restore the lake, said Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Ellen Ferretti. The department had to find a place to take the sediment, and through this collaboration with the state Department of Environmental Resources, “we are able to do that and help complete this abandoned mine reclamation project,” she said.
The Mather slate dump has been in existence in one form or another for more than 95 years. Part of the site was reclaimed through an effort started by Greene County Industrial Development Authority in 2001, which was halted several years later for lack of funding.
And as we previously reported, cracks in the Ryerson Station State Park dam were caused by mining in the area. DCNR and Consol Energy announced a settlement last year that will result in the dam’s replacement.
The coal refuse pile is sitting adjacent to a residential neighborhood and has areas where it burns or smolders. And although the site is fenced off, it has become a popular area for people to ride all-terrain vehicles and engage in other activities. The erosion and some steep cuts in the coal pile present a clear danger to anyone riding or walking in that area, but little or nothing was done because of lack of available money.
These issues have been, if nothing else, “a hurry up and wait” proposition for residents at both ends of the county. As state Rep. Pam Snyder so succinctly put it: “The people of Ryerson and the West Greene community deserve to have that lake back, they’ve waited a long time. And the people of Mather and the Jefferson-Morgan community deserve to have this gone, they have waited even longer.”
Let’s hope we don’t have to wait much longer to see trucks hauling dirt, rather than the usual residual waste, along Route 21.
Now, the bad news: Greene’s Emerald Mine will be closing by the end of next year.
Alpha Natural Resources, the owner, said its decision was based on weak market conditions and the mine’s uncertain geological conditions.
The bottom line here is Emerald employs about 500 workers and though initially we thought that would have catastrophic effects on the area’s economy, it was quickly explained most of those workers will be able to transfer to Alpha’s Cumberland Mine, and some will likely retire.
While the impact on the miners may not be a great as originally feared, we cannot help but sense that mine shutdowns may begin to occur more frequently, considering Alpha had announced last week it plans to lay off 1,100 workers at its operations in West Virginia by mid-October.
Coal has been king in the area for a long time, but its crown now has less luster due to competition from natural gas and increasing environmental concerns. As the country cools to coal, we hope the impact on those who earn their livelihood in the mines can be minimized.