The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

May 7, 2014

Residents: Amfire blowing smoke over problems

PORTAGE — Residents of a small Portage Township neighborhood said Amfire Mining Co., which has a loading facility that borders their 20 to 30 homes, is blowing a “smoke screen” over safety and nuisance issues that have been kicked up year after year.

A familiar group of Shoemaker Circle residents appeared before the township supervisors Wednesday night, expecting progress after a recent meeting of officials on both sides.

For nearly five years, resident Karen Maul said, Shoemaker Circle has been choked by coal dust rolling off Amfire trucks that residents contend barrel through the area recklessly.

Supervisor Bill Cooper said Amfire representatives told them truck traffic is down to a quarter of what it was since complaints started coming in.

Residents said that’s not true.

“We still have a major problem with the dust. The trucks are still running as much as they always did. ... It’s dangerous for the kids,” Maul said, adding that not all Amfire drivers obey the recently added stop sign, which was installed to curb speeding by coal trucks.

“One truck’s all it takes to hurt somebody. That’s why we want to get them off the road,” Maul said.

Options are being explored by both sides. Residents suggested forcing Amfire to split its loading train halves at a time, essentially pressuring the company to consider building an alternate route. Supervisor Rick Olshavsky said Amfire claims that would be too costly. Also, when the train is split for several hours, loading it shuts down the township-owned road that crosses the tracks.

Township officials also are pushing for a new truck route, which would be paid for by Amfire, but don’t want to force the issue and end up in a costly legal battle.

“They said they have no problem purchasing land there to do an alternate route,” Olshavsky said. “They didn’t actually commit to spending the money, but it seemed they would, in the conversation.”

Before any engineering can be done, however, Amfire officials mentioned permits they’d require from the state Department of Environmental Protection to build on wetlands – an area residents assumed is nearby Spring Run.

Justin Dennis covers Portage Township for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at @JustinDennis.

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