Dirt from drained Greene County lake to be used to hide waste
Nearly a decade after suspected coal mining damaged its dam to the point that state officials drained Duke Lake, crews in coming months will start hauling dirt from the former Greene County body of water-turned-overgrown meadow.
But the removal of 250,000 cubic yards of silt is not a sign of restoration for the Ryerson Station State Park anchor. Instead, it is a silver lining state regulators came up with to use one enduring problem to fix another.
“You are creating what will be a community asset in Mather,” said John Poister, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. “And that would not have been able to be done without the deal to use dirt from Duke Lake.”
DEP and the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources are teaming up for the work announced in August. Preliminary work could start within weeks on a waste coal pile still smoldering in nearby Mather, where the Mather Mine operated from 1917 until being shuttered in 1964. The 70-acre pile stretches about seven miles, Poister said.
Greene County tried to reclaim the coal pile in 2001 but ran out of money, he said. “This effort is designed to finish the work that had been started.”
Crews will grade and compact the refuse pile and then cover it in two feet of dirt from Duke Lake. Project costs at the pile are being covered by a $1.6 million contract from DEP, using money from a federal Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation grant. DCNR is providing $2 million to cover the cost of hauling the dirt 27 miles from Ryerson Station, the 1,164-acre state park located in Richhill, to Mather.
That money came from a settlement the agency reached with Consol Energy Inc. in April 2013 in which the Cecil-based coal and gas company agreed to pay $36 million to restore the Duke Lake dam and donate 506 acres to the park.
Other renovations to Ryerson Station include upgrading the park’s camping area by building a shower house and adding sewer lines, roads and parking, said DCNR spokeswoman Christina Novak.
No timetable is set for DEP approval of a pending dam permit application, Novak and Poister said.
As part of its settlement deal, Consol admitted no responsibility that its longwall mining operation under the lake caused the aging dam to crack and leak. DCNR drained the lake in July 2005.
DCNR officials have said they hope to restore Duke Lake by 2017. DEP officials are reviewing DCNR’s application to be certain the structure will stand up to ground instability in the area, Poister said.
“There were some ground movements. We can’t necessarily pin those on the mining, but it was a problem,” he said.
The Washington-based Center for Coalfied Justice last year filed a complaint about the dam application and has yet to hear from DEP officials, executive director Patrick Grenter said.
“I don’t have any clear idea where this process is at all,” he said. “I think what we’ve seen from the state is that Duke Lake is not a priority for them.”
Waiting a decade or more since the lake was drained for any meaningful restoration work to begin is unacceptable, Grenter said.
“There is going to be almost an entire generation gone by that has never seen water in Duke Lake,” he said.
Poister said he understands people are frustrated but said the process is moving forward, even if slowly.
“Because of the special nature of this, we are giving it extra scrutiny,” he said. “Ultimately, what will happen for Duke Lake will be very beneficial.”
Jason Cato is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7936 or [email protected].