U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Department of Environmental Protection Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell led a special event Thursday to mark the beginning of work to remediate and reclaim an abandoned mine site in the community of Ehrenfeld, Cambria County.
Work on the 62-acre site will also bring 40 jobs to laid-off coal workers.
The $13.4 million for the removal project is the first in Pennsylvania to receive funds from the 2016 Abandoned Mine Lands Economic Revitalization Pilot Program Grant. The state was one of three to receive $30 million in the initial federal grant program.
The Ehrenfeld project will get $3.5 million from the pilot program. The remaining funds will come from Pennsylvania’s AML program grant, that derives from a nationwide fee on coal.
The cost for the disposal of the material from the coal pile is $12.7 million, bringing the total cost of the project to more than $26 million.
“This project combines two things that are very important to me and my administration: jobs that pay and government that works,” Gov. Tom Wolf said. “The innovative project plan from DEP, supported by the Department of Interior, will put people back to work and help improve the town.”
"While there are no silver bullets for solving the environmental and economic difficulties in Appalachia or other struggling coal regions in the United States, we have a moral commitment to assist hardworking and increasingly hard-pressed coal country residents in transitioning to a more sustainable economic future,” Secretary Jewell said. “The Ehrenfeld project is one example of how we can work together to make strong and smart investments in coal communities that not only put people back to work but restore our lands and waters to benefit the health and well-being of these communities.”
“This project hits the trifecta: improving the environment, putting miners back to work, and laying the groundwork for economic growth for the community,” DEP Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell said. “We are grateful to Secretary Jewell and the Department of Interior for helping making this project a reality.”
"This first project under the $90 million pilot program will prove that we can, and should, accelerate the pace of abandoned mine land reclamation to put people back to work, and to generate even more jobs after reclamation is complete," U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement Director Joseph Pizarchik said. "All of our great national efforts start in some smaller form. The Ehrenfeld project represents the potential of what the United States can do when our federal and state governments cooperate and work with the people for the greater good."
Rosebud Mining will undertake the reclamation work. The company will employ its own laid-off miners and heavy earth moving equipment that would otherwise be idle due to the nationwide slowdown in the coal industry.
The project, expected to last three years, involves hauling 3.2 million tons of coal refuse to the nearby permitted facility being reclaimed by the mine operator.
The reclamation includes extinguishing a five-acre portion of the pile currently burning, and reducing sediment runoff into the adjacent stream, an unnamed tributary to the Little Conemaugh River. Highly acidic runoff from the pile has flowed into the stream and river for many years and will be eliminated by the project.
The site is a visual and environmental blight on the community, and includes a coal refuse pile that towers over more than 100 nearby homes and buildings. The steep pile poses dangers for riders of all-terrain vehicles on the site.
The reclamation plans include improved drainage, tree plantings, and the development of a recreational park on a portion of the site, due to its location along the “Path of the Flood Trail,” commemorating the 1889 Johnstown flood.
There is also the potential for future industrial and residential development in the remediated area. This project is also one of several being pursued as part of the Little Conemaugh River Restoration Project.
“The result will be a beautiful recreation area, improved access to the riverside trail and future development that will provide a foundation for some exciting growth prospects,” Acting Secretary McDonnell said. “When it’s complete, we will see an attraction that will improve the quality of life for the Ehrenfeld community and the region.”
The Ehrenfeld project is the first of 14 abandoned mine remediation projects across the state to be fully or partially funded by the 2016 AML Pilot Grant. Eight of the projects are in the bituminous coal region and the remaining six are in the anthracite region of Pennsylvania.
The AML Economic Revitalization Pilot Program Grants also help demonstrate the benefits to Pennsylvania from passage of the proposed federal RECLAIM Act.
The RECLAIM Act, which mirrors a proposal in President Obama’s POWER Plus Plan, part of his FY 2016 Budget, was introduced in Congress with bipartisan support including Representatives Matthew Cartwright, Mike Doyle and Charles Dent of the Pennsylvania delegation.
If passed, RECLAIM will direct $67 million of federal AML funding per year to Pennsylvania over the next five years for reclamation projects that deliver local economic benefits similar to the projects included in the pilot.
These funds will help Pennsylvania accelerate efforts to clean up abandoned mine lands, while simultaneously supporting economic development in legacy coal regions that have been hard hit by recent declines in the coal industry.
Gov. Wolf has been vocal in support of the RECLAIM Act, and is urging the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation to support its passage.
For the Ehrenfeld project, DEP’s Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation is partnering with the Foundation for the Alleghenies, the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds, the Cambria County Conservation and Recreation Authority, the Stoneycreek-Conemaugh River Improvement Project, the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, the Forest Hills Regional Alliance, Ehrenfeld Borough, Croyle Township, South Fork Borough and the American Chestnut Foundation.
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