The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

February 5, 2013

Cleaning up mining’s legacy

Amfire pitches acid-drainage abatement plan

— The news keeps getting brighter for the severely polluted Little Conemaugh River in Cambria County.

We are encouraged that Amfire Mining of Latrobe and the state Department of Environmental Resources are working on a $5.6 million agreement that would clean up at least one and possibly more of the river’s acid-mine drainage sites.

SCRIP (The Stonycreek-Conemaugh River Improvement Project) says the Little Conemaugh’s long history with industrial pollution has made it possibly the most polluted waterway in Pennsylvania.

Targeted initially is the Hughes Borehole, an artesian well that is draining 7,300 acres of the abandoned and flooded Lower Kittanning deep mine area at Cresson. Amfire is proposing funding that would be applied to a treatment system in exchange for extension of a mining permit for the Cresson Mine.

But it hopefully gets better. Treatment could be extended to acid-mine drainage sites in the Sonman area and around Miller Shaft, both in Portage Township.

“This will really help improve the Little Conemaugh River from Lilly down,” Dennis Beck of Portage, a member of the Cambria County Conservation District board, told our Kathy Mellott. “We would get the discharges cleaned up at no cost to the taxpayers.”

That indeed is good news. Taxpayers for decades have been shelling out millions upon millions of dollars to clean up the ugly side on our mining industry legacy.

Amfire’s cleanup proposal comes on the heels of one by Rosebud Mining in the St. Michael area.

Rosebud plans to start work this spring on a

$14 million treatment plant that will pull much of the contaminant from Topper Run, a significant polluter of the Little Conemaugh.

The Little Conemaugh travels 29 miles from Cresson to Johnstown before joining with the Stonycreek River to form the Conemaugh River.

We’ve witnessed significant stream improvements along the Stonycreek through the dedication and hard work of several environmental groups and individuals and the investment of huge amounts of funds.

SCRIP’s website says the Little Conemaugh already supports fish life from Cresson to a point near Lilly and is “on the edge of recovery. It runs orange, turbid and ugly, an indicator that it is near the tipping point where a slight increase in pH could cause its acidic flow to release the heavy metals it carries and make its waters more hospitable to fish and recreation.”

We look forward to better, cleaner days.

While DEP promises it is being extremely vigilant in monitoring today’s more modern coal mining operations, putting Amfire and Rosebud’s dollars to work cleaning up mining’s past mistakes is also very exciting news.

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