Monday, January 22, 2024

Mountain Watershed Assn. Files Petition To Designate Parts Of Donegal Township Unsuitable For Coal Mining In Westmoreland County

On January 22, the
Mountain Watershed Association submitted a petition to DEP to declare almost 11,000 acres unsuitable for coal mining in Donegal Township, Westmoreland County.

About 90% of the area includes the Fourmile Run Watershed and the remainder is in the Jacobs Creek Watershed.

If successful, the Association said the petition would limit or fully prevent mining in a sensitive region that has already suffered harmful impacts from coal mining.  

There are currently two applications from LCT Energy that propose extensive underground mining in the petition area, according to the Association. 

The petition provides a report from a consulting hydrogeologist saying coal mining operations in the area have a 90% likelihood of causing significant hydrologic impacts on the petition area. 

These include reducing the surface flow in the upper tributaries of Fourmile Run by 25%, as well as dewatering aquifers by 50%, which would put more than 100 private water supplies at risk.  [Read Report Here.]

Other predicted impacts include: 

-- Deteriorated water quality in Jacobs Creek and Fourmile Run

-- Reduced groundwater in the area 

-- New acid mine discharges that could move south to the Indian Creek watershed.

The petition also describes potential risks to the area’s booming recreation economy and to sensitive local plants and animals. 

It analyzes the possible financial devastation from mining, such as a loss to the surrounding watershed’s “ecosystem service value,” which is currently estimated to generate $378,157,073.00 each year.

"Having lived for more than six years with LCT's Rustic Ridge mine behind my farm, I have seen first-hand the inadequacies of the current underground mining regulations," says Barbara McMillan, who owns a farm near the mining boundary. After mining began, McMillan noticed significant water loss and increase in iron levels in her farm's artesian well. The mining regulations, she says "appear to favor the multi-million dollar mining companies, and ignore the Constitutional rights of ordinary citizens to clean air, clean water and the enjoyment of an unimpaired natural environment."

“Residents in this area have already suffered significant impacts to their property and quality of life due to the presence of local coal mining operations,” says Madison Hinkle, Attorney and Community Advocate with MWA. “We feel strongly that an Unsuitable for Mining designation would protect the area from mining impacts in ways that the permitting scheme cannot.” 

Youghiogheny Riverkeeper, Eric Harder, said, “We have long felt frustrated by the way mining regulations have left the area’s community with little recourse after damage to their homes and water supplies. This is one of the few regulatory tools that DEP has at their disposal to protect our community and now is the time for them to use it. 

Click Here for a copy of the petition.  Click Here for a one-page summary.

Unsuitable For Mining Petitions

The petition hopes to revive use of the regulatory process designed to protect areas with sensitive environmental features, from mining. 

According to public records, the regulatory scheme has not been used in over a decade -- with the last petition approved in 2011. 

The DEP has 30 days to determine if the petition is merited. If it is accepted, DEP has 12 months to conduct a technical review and make a recommendation on the petition. 

A designation of “unsuitable” would protect the Laurel Highlands and preserve the quality of life for its communities.

             Visit DEP’s Areas Unsuitable for Mining webpage to learn more about this program.

             For more information on initiatives, programs, upcoming events and how you can get involved, visit the Mountain Watershed Association website.

[Posted: January 22, 2024]  PA Environment Digest

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