The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


December 20, 2013

Covering our wounds | Two reclamation projects – 1 planned, 1 active

JOHNSTOWN — Two large scars on the Greater Johnstown landscape soon could be healed.

A bony pile that long detracted from the Mine 37 landscape could be sprouting lush, green vegetation if Ebensburg Power Co.’s wishes are granted.

The company has proposed a reclamation project for the waste coal site that is situated on a hilly tract near Paint Creek.

Ebensburg Power has successfully reclaimed tracts in Revloc and Nanty Glo, turning once black piles of waste coal into green hills. It now has set its sights on the Richland Township location. It wants to remove 1.7 million tons of waste coal and then reclaim the property to its original contours featuring grass and other vegetation.

“It’s polluted our streams and rivers for too long,” said Ron Corl, a 12th Street resident and proponent of the project. “You talk about wiping out the sins of the past – well this sure does it.”

The company faces many hurdles – such as state and local ordinances – before it can start moving equipment onto the site.

The project is not without its concerns, however. Residents are worried about increased truck traffic on the road, especially around a curve. Many motorists use the road as a shortcut into Windber, it was noted.

“It’s definitely a safety issue with the traffic,” said Steve Toki, who lives in the neighborhood.

The township’s zoning board will continue discussions on the project at its Jan. 20 meeting.

Meanwhile, a 30-acre swath of land in Gallitzin Township has gone from moonscape to landscape.

The second phase of a reclamation project at the Ferris Wheel site has resulted in grass growing lush and green and about 5,000 trees taking root.

“There’s never been anything growing on it until we reclaimed it,” said Earl Smithmyer, director of Clearfield Creek Watershed Association, the group responsible for the revegetation work.

“You would have to have seen it before to appreciate what’s there now,” he said. “Now, there’s deer there; turkeys feed there.”

The former strip mine site was a cause of acid-mine drainage into Little Laurel Run. Now, officials hope that ground water that eventually makes its way into the stream will carry less acid.

So far, pH levels have been favorable, moving from an original reading of 3.4 to a current reading of 3.6.

“It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a pretty big improvement,” Smithmyer said.

Bony piles and strip mines are reminders of the impact that coal mining has had on our area. Anytime we can erase the effects of either one from our landscape, and provide a boost to the local economy in the process, is a benefit.

We’re blessed to have hardworking groups and individuals in our area that champion the return of our landscape to its once pristine condition.

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