Company seeks to reopen coal mine in Nottingham, Washington County
A plan to reopen a coal mine, long dreaded by residents of a rural northern Washington County community, is inching closer to reality.
Officials with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection are reviewing an underground mining permit application filed by Ramaco Inc. of Kentucky on Oct. 10, nearly 20 months since residents received notification about the proposed mine along Little Mingo Road in Nottingham, a community between Peters and Eighty Four.
Ramaco bought 8 million tons of coal reserves beneath Nottingham and Peters that were part of the Mathies Mine, which opened in 1944 and closed in 2002. The company wants to build a box-cut mine on 42 acres once zoned agricultural along Little Mingo Road.
“We are still taking the stance that it’s not good for us,” said Dennis “Denny” Franks, 59, who lives directly across from the site and is a member of “Protectors of Mingo,” a community-opposition group that next meets Dec. 9 at the Nottingham Township Building. “In fact, it’s not good for any community.”
In particular, Franks and other opponents object to potentially hundreds of daily triaxle truck trips in and out of the mine. That traffic threatens Little Mingo Creek, which meanders along the edge of the three-mile road, as well as school bus traffic for children and cyclists who use the state-dedicated bike route, Franks said.
“We are worried about safety,” he said.
Ramaco President and co-founder Michael Bauersachs said the company explored ways to address residents’ concerns, as well as restrictions from township officials and state regulations, which he described as among the most stringent in the country.
“There are some things that we cannot fix,” he said. “We would prefer to move the coal on a belt line, but that just isn’t feasible.”
Bauersachs said he expects DEP to approve his permit application but that Ramaco has no timetable for breaking ground.
“We’re not in a huge hurry,” Bauersachs said.
Prices for metallurgical coal, used in steelmaking at places such as U.S. Steel’s Clairton Works, dropped in October to a seven-year low of $119 per ton and aren’t expected to recover to $135 to $145 per ton until the second half of 2016, Moody’s predicts.
Nottingham officials in May 2013 approved conditional use of the land for mining as long as Ramaco met 62 conditions.
Bauersachs said the company’s desire to build a less-visible mine facility down the hillside was nixed by township restrictions that it be farther away from Little Mingo Creek. Except for immediate neighbors, most of the community will not know the mine is there, Bauersachs said.
“We’ve done everything we possibly can to put it in the best spot,” he said. “It’s in one of the better spots that it could be.”
A company desire to discharge mining water into old Mathies Mine was nixed, Bauersachs said, although he said that plan would have diluted water in the mine that DEP is paying to treat. Ramaco would have helped cover the cost of treating that water, he said.
“We would have been more environmentally responsible,” Bauersachs said. “But absolutely this thing will make sense.”
Opponents hope still to block the project, said Patrick Grenter, executive director of Washington-based Center for Coalfield Justice.
He expects DEP officials to uncover questions as the department reviews the application for completeness and later during its line-by-line technical review.
Franks said he is hopeful DEP regulators will minimize the mine’s impact if it grants the permit.
“This is the first time we’ve faced a battle like this in our community, and it’s been uphill since the beginning,” he said. “It has been nerve-wracking.”
Jason Cato is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7936 or [email protected].