A long-abandoned waste coal dump has been a part of Mine 37’s backdrop for generations.
It’s the most visible reminder of the mining era that built the Richland Township neighborhood – but also a major polluter and an inviting location for illegal dumping, local residents say.
That could change in the years ahead if Ebensburg Power Co. gets its wish.
The company, which has reclaimed property in Revloc and Nanty Glo, wants to remove 1.7 million tons of waste coal from a hilly tract of land near Paint Creek and then bring the property back to life by planting grass and other vegetation on top of a mix containing watered-down coal ash, limestone and new soil.
But first, the group must get approval from Richland’s zoning board – one step among many in a thorough regulatory process necessary to do the work.
“We’ve had a lot of success at Revloc and Nanty Glo,” Ebensburg Power Co.’s Gary Anderson said, showing zoning board members aerial images of Revloc where green hills have replaced dark gray bony piles.
The company must get the zoning board’s nod because it oversees the township’s surface mining guidelines and a small piece of the area where Ebensburg Power Co. wants to remove coal appears to be on land zoned residential.
The company will need a variance to mine on the residential land, zoning solicitor Michael Sahlaney said.
For the rest of the project, as far as it involves Richland’s board, Ebensburg Power Co. will need to show it meets standards for a special exception, he noted.
“Our job is not to look at whether mining is wonderful or terrible ... it’s to see if they meet a checklist of items, and if they do, it’s presumed their special exemption is to be granted.”
If the company can acquire a state mining permit to undertake the project, Anderson said the company would likely use 50 or so trucks during weekdays – and some Saturdays – to haul coal refuse from the site on a rural access road that connects with Mine 37 Road toward Route 219.
It would widen that access road to 30 feet – and trucks would be required to travel a maximum of 15 mph.
No blasting would occur and no surface work would occur within 100 feet of a road or 300 feet of residents, noting the Mine 37 neighborhood itself is buffered by a wall of trees, company officials said.
Residents who testified at a zoning hearing on the matter said they’d like to see the pile gone. Two residents cited worries about truck traffic and, particularly, a Mine 37 Road curve that is well-traveled by buses and fast-moving cars.
“It’s definitely a safety issue with the traffic,” said Steve Toki, who lives in the neighborhood.
Motorists use the road as a Windber shortcut, he said, suggesting road signage should be added telling drivers to slow down.
Ebensburg Power Co. staff said that might help – and said they would also cut back vegetation on that curve to increase visibility.
Ron Corl, a 12th Street resident, applauded the company, saying he’ll be glad to see the coal pile gone.
“It’s polluted our streams and rivers for too long. You talk about wiping out the sins of the past – well this sure does it,” he added.
Richland’s zoning officer, Dave Mills, said the township has a few requests of its own, indicating township guidelines would require fencing around any holding ponds on the property.
He also suggested it’s possible that the company’s plans to add their acidity-reducing limestone mix and soil to the land would bring their grading ordinance into the discussion.
“At this point, we don’t know though,” he said, noting that this is the first time the township’s decades-old guidelines on mining have been put to the test. A mining project has not occurred in the township in years, he added.
Zoning chairman William Patrick said the board will continue its hearing Jan. 20, with plans to issue recommendations that its planning commission will have 45 days to comment on before a final zoning board decision is made.
David Hurst covers Richland Township for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/tddavidhurst.