'Long overdue': East Beth coal refuse dump cleanup nearly ready to start

Gideon Bradshaw
Observer Reporter

Jasen Henck said the Black Dog Hollow gob pile in East Bethlehem Township has been there since he was a kid.

Now, officials say reclamation work on the coal waste dump at the site of the long-shuttered Clyde Mine is nearly ready to begin.

“It’s long overdue,” said Henck, 43, who’s president of township commissioners. “We’re just hoping that they can reclaim it, cover it up and make it more presentable without any kind of impact on our community.”

The coal waste pile is considered a serious hazard, and sprawls over 45 acres within 500 feet of about 60 homes of the Mon Valley community. In some places, it’s as high as 90 feet.

Lauren Fraley, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said work on the project is expected to start “within the next couple weeks.” The agency’s contractor, Earthmovers Unlimited Inc., doesn’t have an exact start date.

The DEP awarded the $4.8 million contract to Earthmovers, which is based in Clearfield County, in December. The state is paying for the project from $55.7 million in federal grants the state received for last year toward projects to reclaim abandoned mine land.

“The project also involves the removal of what remains of a conveyor system that was built into the pile prior to 1958,” Fraley said in an email. “At the conclusion of the project the remaining structures will be demolished, hazardous debris removed from the site, and the coal refuse pile will be graded into a more stable configuration and revegetated.”

Fraley said trespassers enjoy “uncontrolled access” to the property, and there are plenty of “unauthorized roads” plus trails used by all-terrain vehicles. The house that’s closest to the base of the pile is only about 100 feet away.

“Erosion is depositing large amounts of coal refuse onto yards and neighboring properties and has led to clogging of the municipal storm sewer system,” Fraley added.

State Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Jefferson, welcomed the project, which she said is part of a federal pilot program. She hoped there’d be more like it.

“We have seen tremendous environmental improvement by cleaning up other slate dumps in the area, and this will do the same by preventing water runoff from getting into the Monongahela River,” she said in a statement from her office.

Henck said the pile has existed for “50-plus years, so we just want it done right. We’re just glad it’s finally getting done.”

Henck said on Wednesday that a storm had washed material down from the pile onto Route 88 the night before. It had to be cleaned up by crews from the state Department of Transportation.

“It’s plugging up the drains,” he added.

Township officials notified residents on social media that work would occur during daylight hours on weekdays, but some weekend work might be necessary. None of the work will take place at night.

Henck said the “only impact on our roads” would be at the entrance to the site near the junction of Blanche Road and Luna Street. The contract allows up to 600 calendar days for completion, but the project may not take that long.

Clyde Mine opened in 1900 and closed sometime in the 1980s. The last owner of the gob pile property, LTV Steel Corp., declared bankruptcy in the early 2000s.

Washington County records list the current owner as Hobo Ventures LLC, which has an address in Rostraver Township.

Henck said township officials are working with the landowner regarding the future of the property.

“He’s being receptive to us putting a park there after it’s done, something for the community,” he said.