A pile of coal waste that has been smoldering underground near Pittsburgh International Airport for several years has environmental regulators worried it might eventually create a smokescreen and affect visibility for air traffic.
The potential danger prompted state environmental regulators to implement a plan to remove 429,000 cubic yards of coal waste from the 10-acre site near Cummings Road in Findlay Township.
The state Department of Environmental Protection announced Wednesday it will pay Earthmovers Unlimited of Clearfield County nearly $1.5 million from its abandoned mine reclamation trust fund to extinguish the fire, remove the coal waste pile and remediate the site.
DEP spokesman John Poister said the underground fire has been burning for “several years” and could one day pose a risk to air traffic, radar towers and an underground natural gas transmission line. The pile’s location is about a mile southwest of the airport’s southern runway and surrounded on three sides by Route 30, the Southern Beltway and Interstate 376.
The work will begin next month and take about a year to complete, Poister said. He would not disclose who owns the property, which is just outside the airport’s boundaries. However, the coal waste pile is from a mining operation on the property from 1906 to 1939.
This is the second time DEP performed work on the pile in the past two years. Crews dug an isolation trench around the site in 2012 in an attempt to build a temporary barrier while they prepared to find a permanent solution.
Crews will perform grading work at the site, plant vegetation to prevent erosion and construct a gravel path to replace an access road to the area. Firefighters expect to use millions of gallons of water and 200 gallons of specialized firefighter foam to extinguish the underground fire.
This is the second major coal waste removal project that DEP has unveiled this month. The state plans to also reclaim the 70-acre Mather Mine coal waste pile in Greene County using sediment dredged from the dried Duke Lake at Ryerson Station State Park. The DEP will spend $1.6 million to reclaim the Mather Mine, and it will cost another $2 million to transport sediment from Duke Lake to Mather.