The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 9, 2012

Groups join to restore Flight 93 waterway

David Hurst

SHANKSVILLE — They call it one of the Flight 93 Memorial’s great untold stories.

But for the state and local environmental groups working to bring new life to this “hallowed ground” mine land, it’s the continuation of a job that began years before a hijacked airliner crashed here Sept. 11, 2001.

Today, efforts to restore the strip mine land and an iron-polluted stream that surrounds it are going hand-in-hand in many ways with those working to expand the Flight 93 National Memorial park.

“The land surrounding this park is really the memorial – the field, the hills, the sky above us,” said Jeffrey Reinbold, the National Park Service Western Pennsylvania superintendent who oversees the park.

And the crash site itself is far different than New York or Washington, D.C., he added, saying planners understood that when they picked a park design that highlights its pastoral surroundings.

“The decision was made to embrace this land’s history – and the fact it’s an evolving landscape, rather than try to keep the crash site frozen in time,” Reinbold added. “And all of this work being done here is a part of that.”

Efforts are under way to clean up three AMD sources polluting Lamberts Run, a highly iron-laden waterway that runs through the park property.

The stream is a major Stonycreek River polluter.

With help from state agencies such as the DEP Office of Surface Mining and more than $700,000 in grants, the Somerset Conservation District, Somerset County Conservancy and a long list of partners have added passive treatment systems designed to remove iron and other materials seeping into Lamberts Run. The stream is orange in many areas and nearly void of aquatic life, said Eric Robertson, an engineer with the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts.

“Iron is the major problem,” DEP Watershed Manager Malcolm Crittenden said, noting the stream has high alkaline levels because of it.

A treatment pond is in place upstream, wetland improvements to a separate pump well site are under way and other remediation efforts are planned.

Park Service planners envision the day will come when they can use Lamberts Run water for irrigation, restrooms and other Flight 93 park facilities, said Keith Newlin, National Park Service Western Pennsylvania deputy.

A separate well will be drilled for drinking water, he added.

 Robertson said existing treatment efforts are working, including a treatment pond designed to remove iron by giving it time to oxidize. He showed visitors an area that was once deep orange from iron now fading into a more natural color.

PBS Coals donated $2.2 million it received from selling the property for a trust fund that DEP now oversees to ensure ongoing maintenance on AMD projects, Crittenden said.

Meanwhile, project partners, led by the Park Service, have planted 20 acres of trees on the scarred land. Newlin said several dozen acres more will follow in the next two years.

Park planners envision visitors driving past a colorful, wooded area on the way to the impact crater, which will remain unchanged.

It will make the sudden sight of it that much more moving, Newlin said.

Reinbold described the effort as “a modern day barnraising.”

“So many groups have worked together to make this happen,” he said.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.