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Federal money could restart cleanup of abandoned Rostraver mine

Stephen Huba
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A pond near the former Banning No. 4 Mine in Rostraver Township. Other impoundment ponds at the site hold sludge, coal refuse slurry and acid mine drainage and are part of a long-delayed mine reclamation project.

An influx of federal money could breathe life into a long-delayed project to reclaim and remediate the Banning No. 4 Mine in Rostraver.

The abandoned deep mine, which sits at a bend of the Youghiogheny River just south of West Newton, can be seen from the Great Allegheny Passage, a popular hiking and biking trail.

The project calls for regrading the steep slopes of a 100-foot-high impoundment and eliminating the environmental and public health hazards associated with three coal refuse slurry ponds, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration recently announced $55.6 million in new funding for 150 abandoned mine reclamation projects across the state, including Banning. The funding comes from the U.S. Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and its 2018 Abandoned Mine Land Grant Fund.

The funding approval means the resumption of a project that got delayed in 2015 because of bids that far exceeded preliminary cost estimates , spokeswoman Lauren Fraley said. The project was tabled while the DEP considered ways to reduce its scope.

“DEP is working with a consultant on the redesign and will evaluate its design options and subsequent construction bids to determine the scope of the project,” Fraley said, noting that a final design is expected by January.

Among the possible future uses of the site is as a solar farm, although no formal proposals have been received, she said. Project costs could exceed $7 million, depending on the scope and design.

Republic Steel operated the mine in the 1960s and disposed of coal refuse by transporting coarse material by conveyor and pumping fine refuse as slurry from an adjacent coal preparation plant. Three ponds are constructed on top of the pile, which reaches heights of 100 feet and has slopes that are almost vertical in several locations.

Pond No. 1 primarily contains sludge from Republic’s adjacent acid mine drainage treatment plant. Its embankment is considered a low-hazard dam and requires a dam permit for remediation. Ponds 2 and 3 contain coal refuse slurry, according to the DEP.

The ponds never were fully remediated when Republic closed Banning and sealed it in 1982. West Newton Coal Logistics, or WNCL, was issued a coal refuse disposal permit in 1983 to dispose of coarse and fine refuse from an adjacent plant that was processing only off-site coal, according to the DEP.

WNCL ceased refuse disposal operations in 1984, the same year LTV Steel acquired Republic Steel. Via an agreement with WNCL, LTV Steel continued to dispose of sludge in Pond No. 1 until 1990, when boreholes were drilled into the deep mine for disposal, according to DEP.

The project will involve regrading the embankments into more stable slopes, incorporating an alkaline cover material/growth medium, establishing vegetation, and addressing both on-site and off-site drainage, according to the DEP.

Surface runoff will be controlled with terraces, swales and drains, which will be reinforced with rock or other protection, the DEP said.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter @shuba_trib.

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