Interior secretary brings mine reclamation funds to area

Rick Shrum

Observer Reporter

FREDERICKTOWN – Pennsylvania, according to a large graphic from the state Department of Environmental Protection, “has more abandoned mine lands resulting from past coal mining than any other state in the nation.”

A member of President Donald Trump’s cabinet traveled to Fredericktown Saturday to speak a half-mile from one of them.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke appeared at East Bethlehem Volunteer Fire Company to announce his department is providing $300.7 million to states and Indian tribes to reclaim abandoned coal mine land nationwide. The grants are being made through the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

Zinke, who addressed an audience of about 100, said traveling through former mining areas of Pennsylvania reminds him of his native Montana, where land reclamation also has been an issue. “The good thing is it can be fixed,” he said during his brief speech.

The secretary signed a ceremonial large check for $300.7 million, the grants to be divided among 25 states, the Crow and Hopi tribes and the Navajo Nation. A full 18.5 percent of that total – $55.7 million – is earmarked for Pennsylvania, the second largest disbursement behind only Wyoming ($91.3 million, 30.3 percent). West Virginia ($36.3 million) is third, followed by Kentucky ($19.04 million), Illinois (19.02 million) and Ohio ($10.8 million).

Pennsylvania does have a formidable mining history, resulting in a formidable 850 large coal refuse piles across the surface of the state. There are more than 100,000 acres of unreclaimed abandoned mine land.

Not surprisingly, the local spotlight Saturday was on the Black Dog Hollow project off Route 88 – also known as the Clyde Mine, which shut down long ago. It is a 45-acre, 90-foot-tall pile that state Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Jefferson, referred to a couple of years ago as a “huge gob pile.” That refuse and an abandoned mine structure are regarded as major hazards, within 500 feet of about 60 East Bethlehem Township homes.

There is no timetable for beginning the Black Dog Hollow project, although John Stefanko, deputy secretary of the DEP, said “we’re hoping by sometime this fall.” He said there are three bidding processes ahead.

The pile, according to the DEP, is a “direct result” of deep mining by Clyde Coal Co. in the early 1900s. Hobo Ventures, of Belle Vernon, now owns the property, which is in the watershed of an unnamed tributary of the Monongahela River.

“Unfortunately, there are many piles like this near communities like this,” U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, said. “Funds like this eliminate sites, literally bringing hillsides and streams back to life.”

Washington County Commissioner Harlan Shober attended the news conference and is buoyed by what funding for the Black Dog Hollow reclamation may mean to the southeastern quadrant of the county.

“This is great for the East Bethlehem-Fredericktown area,” he said. “The river is a big asset to this community and this project will bring people back to it. This is a gigantic step.”

Snyder was pleasantly surprised Zinke came to town. “It probably wouldn’t be unusual if the secretary of the Interior came to Harrisburg, Pittsburgh or Philadelphia,” she said. “But to have the secretary in Fredericktown is unusual.”

The Greene County legislator is likewise thrilled this local project may launch later this year. She is an appointed member of the Reclamation Advisory Board, which advises the DEP on coal matters such as that notorious gob pile nearby.

“People have worked hard on trying to get rid of that pile. This is long overdue.

“Hopefully, we’ll see a green space there in a few years.”