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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Powderly Mine Fire Reclamation Will Eliminate Public Safety Hazards

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell led a special event today to acknowledge the continuing work to extinguish the underground mine fire at Powderly Creek in Carbondale, Lackawanna County, and to reclaim the abandoned mine land for future development. The work on the 82-acre site is designed to extinguish an underground mine fire believed to have been burning for decades, and eliminate public health and safety hazards, including dangerous highwalls and harmful gases from the fire.

Powderly Creek is the first and only underground mine fire to receive funds from the 2016 Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Economic Revitalization Pilot Program Grant Program. The state is one of three to receive $30 million in the initial federal grant program. The Powderly Mine Fire will receive $2.0 million from the pilot program, with $6.9 million coming from the Pennsylvania AML Program Grant, a fund that coal operators nationwide pay into on every ton of coal mined.

“This project will eliminate an unsightly spot that residents in this area have had to deal with for more than two decades,” said Acting Secretary McDonnell. “With the end of the mine fire and fresh land available for development, this area can now see a transformation to new industry, and open space for recreation.”

“With the nation transitioning toward cleaner energy, we have a moral obligation, and are committed, to provide for those who have worked hard and given us affordable energy through the years,” said Joe Pizarchik, director of the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE). “Projects like these are extremely beneficial to the community, not only as a result of the effort to put out the fire, but also the longer term benefits of the reclaimed land that can provide for new recreational areas, new housing, new businesses, and most importantly, new jobs for our people.”

McDonnell and Pizarchik visited the site with local leaders and other state officials to see first-hand the commencement of work onsite and discuss the economic and environmental benefits of the project.

Earthmovers Unlimited, Inc. out of Kylertown, PA was awarded an $8.9 million contract for the work in June 2015. Once the land is reclaimed, it will be used for development of industry and open green space.

Expected to last three years, the project will eliminate a 25-acre underground fire believed to be hundreds of feet deep, dangerous highwalls 2,500 feet long and 130 feet deep with an open pit at the bottom, mine subsidence, cracking and sloughing rock, venting of harmful gases such as carbon monoxide, and dangerous coal spoil piles from previous underground mining.

Blasting will occur to eliminate the highwalls and excavate the mine fire. Residents are being given a 30-day notice of the blasting. Some residents may notice an egg-like odor and/or steam, which may be released as the contractor excavates the earth and exposes the hot and burning materials. DEP is conducting air quality monitoring as needed throughout the project. Erosion and sediment control has been installed to control run-off.

Active coal mining on the Powderly Creek site began in the 1880s, with surface mining continuing into the 1960s. Powderly Creek’s underground fire was first detected by residents in the nearby area in 1995, although DEP believes the fire began earlier. DEP and OSMRE began work that year to extinguish the blaze.

The AML Economic Revitalization Pilot Program Grants also help demonstrate the benefits to Pennsylvania that could be realized across the country from passage of the proposed federal RECLAIM Act. That act, which mirrors a proposal in President Obama’s POWER Plus Plan, part of his FY 2016 Budget proposal, was introduced in Congress with bi-partisan support including Pennsylvania Representatives Matthew Cartwright, Mike Doyle and Charles Dent.

If passed, RECLAIM will direct approximately $67 million of federal AML funding per year to Pennsylvania over the next five years for reclamation projects that deliver local economic benefits similar to the projects included in the pilot. These funds will help Pennsylvania accelerate efforts to clean up abandoned mine lands, while simultaneously supporting economic development in legacy coal regions that have been hard hit by recent declines in the coal industry. Governor Wolf has been vocal in support of the RECLAIM Act, and is urging the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation to support its passage.
For the Powderly Creek project, DEP’s Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation is partnering with D&L Realty, Carbondale Enterprise Development Zone, Carbondale City, Carbondale Township and the Lackawanna County Regional Planning Commission.

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