Friday, December 29, 2017

In Memoriam: Robert Eppley, Jr., A Passionate Volunteer Restoring The Environment

Dr. Robert L. Eppley Jr., an environmental scientist and chemist and long-time active member of the Blacklick Creek Watershed Association in Cambria and Indiana Counties, passed away on December 24.  He was passionate about the environment.
Some of his accomplishments include developing partnerships to clean up abandoned coal mine drainage and discovering caves as president and technical director of Blacklick Creek Water Association, leading and participating in the National Speleological Society and Chestnut Ridge Explorers Association and serving as past president of the Western PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation.
He received the Evergreen Conservancy’s lifetime achievement award and the Pennsylvania Abandoned Mine Reclamation Mayfly honor.
The Association said, “Dr. Eppley became very instrumental in securing and managing a number of DEP Growing Greener and other grants, resulting in the construction of a series of successful passive AMD treatment systems.  These efforts culminated in the watershed receiving the PaDEP Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence.  These systems remain in existence today and stand as Dr. Eppley's legacy of being a tireless, environmental advocate for the Blacklick Creek Watershed Association.”
“The legacy of Bob Eppley’s work is more than a dozen mine drainage treatment projects, miles of streams clean streams and restored landscapes, it is a permanent monument to the power of partnerships to cleanup our environment,” said former DEP Secretary David E. Hess, who had the opportunity to meet Bob and talk about his vision for the watershed.  “Volunteers like Bob who care about their watershed can and have accomplish amazing things all across Pennsylvania, when given the right tools and support, something we need to remember now more than ever.”
Here’s a PA Environment Digest profile of Blacklick Creek Watershed Association accomplishments featuring Bob Eppley and his involvement in cleaning up the watershed that is a wonderful review of this part of his life--
It’s tough to start a watershed association, just ask Bob Eppley of the Blacklick Creek Watershed Association in Cambria and Indiana counties. But, the rewards are worth it.
“One of our first projects was an acid mine drainage conference and a mine owner heard me on the radio talking about mine drainage problems,” said Bob Eppley, President of Blacklick. “He came storming into the meeting wanting to see the S.O.B. that was talking bad about mine operators!
“Thanks to someone else, it didn’t come to blows,” said Eppley. “But you know, that same mine operator later donated land and helped us with one of our mine treatment projects”
The Association started in the 420 square mile Blacklick Creek Watershed in 1993 and now boasts about 150 members.
The watershed has 270 miles of streams polluted by 90 discharges from more than 300 coal mines and 170 coal refuse piles.
The Association has so far completed 13 mine drainage treatment and reclamation projects in the watershed, has a regular water sampling program staffed by volunteers and works with many diverse partners to do their projects. Some of those partners include the DEP, Game Commission, Fish & Boat Commission, county officials, township officials, conservation districts, Indiana University of Pennsylvania students and faculty, utilities and coal mining companies.
The group is now completing the Laurel Run 2 project in a tributary to the Blacklick that will treat the second of two large abandoned deep mine discharges. Re-mining operations, mining that recovers coal left behind from previous mining and reclaims the land to modern standards, successfully stopped two other discharges in the Run.
“In the 1920s Laurel Run was a native brook trout stream with a beautiful waterfalls, until deep and surface mines came and turned the stream acid and orange,” said Eppley. “Two years ago we finished the project to treat the first discharge with Stream Restoration, Inc. and in May we started the Laurel Run 2 project.”
The project involves filling in and grading a 290 foot long, 60 foot highwall as well as building two treatment ponds to treat water coming from a mine seal that blew out in 1970. The ponds use a relatively new sulfate reducing bacterial technology. The 160 acre project was funded by a $287,000 grant from the Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation.
“We partnered with Robindale Energy Services, Inc. who is bringing in alkaline fluidized bed coal ash from the Seward Power Station free of charge to fill in the highwall,” said Eppley. “It works out well for them because they then carried abandoned strip pit coal refuse from the nearby State Game Land No. 276 to Seward to burn.”
About 22,000 tons of ash will be needed to fill in the highwall area that is now about two-thirds full. The project is expected to be complete later in November.
The Laurel Run 2 project should restore the final three miles of the stream down to the main stem of Blacklick Creek.
“We also just finished another project with Robindale Energy Services, Inc. and DEP Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation near Vintondale along the Ghost Town Trail that involved hauling out about 65,000 tons of coal refuse on 4.5 acres and filling in a 160 foot deep mine shaft and several hazardous concrete abandoned coal cleaning pits with beneficial alkaline ash,” said Eppley.
Why do people like Bob Eppley take on this huge challenge? He explains it this way…
“I was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania’s coal and steel country. My father and grandfather Eppley worked in the mills. My maternal grandfather worked in the coal mines - having begun as a teenage shaft digger.
“Where I grew up, most of the streams were orange, much of the terrain was black and often the sky was grey. Even so, I learned to appreciate clean streams, fishing and water.
“When I got a chance to attend college (and then grad school) I decided never to return to the coal regions except as a visitor. However, after a layoff from a large technology firm in New York State and after some medical problems, my wife and I decided to return to the area to secure recovery and employment.
“Seeing the streams and dumps again spurred my interests in environmental science. For the next 35 years, I was employed by industries associated with mining and electrical generation. However, I began to do environmental consulting on the side. I also was given the opportunity to teach chemistry at the college level as an adjunct evening faculty member. During that stint, I presented a section on "Water in the Environment".
“In 1994 after another corporate layoff, I was asked to join the newborn Blacklick Creek Watershed Association. As a fisherman with environmental interests, I joined and soon was inducted into leadership in the organization. My environmental science consulting continued and meshed well with watershed projects. I was designated Project Manager for BCWA remediation projects.
“Projects have grown both in size and difficulty. Many have resulted in significant successes in remediation and restoration of streams, refuse piles and abandoned mine areas.
“My backgrounds in chemistry, geosciences and management have given me an opportunity to provide services useful in environmental projects. Approximately 60 percent of my present efforts are volunteer.
“The Laurel Run 2 Project is an opportunity to at least get one complete stream in the Blacklick Creek watershed restored to pre-mining, historical conditions.”
Stories like these are repeated often across Pennsylvania and it’s one of many reasons watershed organizations have grown from less than 100 to over 400 since the start of the original Growing Greener Watershed Restoration Program in 2000.
Work like this is not only personally rewarding, but Blacklick Creek Watershed Association has won recognition as well. In 2003, the Association was awarded the Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence.
Keep up the great work out there!
Click Here to read the full obituary for Robert Eppley.
Comments On Bob Eppley's Passing-- -- The Slippery Rock Watershed Coalition wishes to thank Bob Eppley for his love, knowledge, and persistence in addressing abandoned mine impacts in the Blacklick Creek Watershed. Bob has left a legacy that will continue to benefit the environment and contribute to future development of technology. -- Margaret Dunn said," As described in the Memoriam, Bob also realized the value of the many volunteers and organizations involved, including the state programs and agencies that enabled construction of the passive treatment systems and provided on-going encouragement and support."
(Photo: Dr. Eppley caving, courtesy Kim Metzgar.)

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