By Kaylee Lindenmuth
NORTH UNION TWP. - The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced Tuesday $55.6 million in funding to support at least 150 abandoned mine reclamation projects across the commonwealth.
“Pennsylvania’s mining legacy necessitates continued commitment to remediating and reclaiming former mine lands, eliminating hazards, improving the environment, and benefiting communities,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell in a release.
The approved projects, according to the release, "will remove dangerous steep walls left by mining operations; correct hazardous sinkholes and troughs caused by collapse of underground mines; extinguish underground fires; reforest and revegetate some land; and remove acid mine drainage, helping to restore the health of streams, some of which have been contaminated for decades, and potentially enabling the return of fish populations."
“One-third of the abandoned mine lands in the nation are located in Pennsylvania, largely as a result of hundreds of years of coal mining prior to modern laws, regulations, and safeguards,” said Eric Cavazza, director of the DEP Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation. “DEP receives around 800 requests annually for assistance from the public for AML problems and constantly evaluates eligible sites, assigning a higher priority to sites that pose a public health, safety, or property risk.”
Project funding comes from the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement 2018 Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Grant Fund, and is supported by the active mining industry via a fee on coal mined across the country.
In Schuylkill County, only one project was listed among the "larger projects" to be funded: the reclamation of the Oneida West abandoned surface mine in North Union Township.
According to DEP, the project will also eliminate dangerous high walls.
In Northumberland County, a project will "eliminate a dangerous highwall at the Bear Valley Southwest abandoned surface mine, allowing construction of an off-road vehicle/ATV park to improve recreational opportunities in Coal and Zerbe Townships."
Tuesday's release listed 12 "larger projects," of which only three were in the Anthracite Region, the third to extinguish a mine fire in Olyphant, Lackawanna County.
According to DEP Deputy Communications Director Deb Klenotic, one other reclamation project will be funded in Schuylkill County from the $55.6 Million.
In Tremont Township, the Red Mountain Southwest - Swatara Creek Abandoned Mine Reclamation project will be funded, which will backfill and regrade 463 feet of highwalls, remove piles and embankments as high as 50 feet, and reclaim 45 acres of abandoned strip mine land.