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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

DEP SECRETARY SAYS STAY OUT OF MINES, QUARRIES TO STAY ALIVE

DEP’s ‘Stay Out, Stay Alive’ Program Highlights Dangers of Active, Abandoned Mines

NEWPORT TOWNSHIP – Active and abandoned mines present dangerous playgrounds that claim dozens of lives each year, but these tragic deaths can be avoided if residents stay away from mine and quarries, according to Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger. Hanger made his remarks as he opened the 2009 “Stay Out - Stay Alive” campaign while visiting the Newport North abandoned mine site in Luzerne County, where six people have died in accidents since 1998.

“This abandoned mine has been the site of two tragedies that have claimed six lives in the past 10 years,” said Hanger, who also noted that DEP is now reclaiming the site under a $717,080 contract it awarded in September to Knorr Contracting Inc. of Bloomsburg, Columbia County. As part of the project, Knorr will remove dangerous mine features and restore the deadly site to pre-mining conditions.

“Sadly, there are other sites in Pennsylvania that are equally dangerous,” said Hanger. “With warmer weather approaching and people heading outside, I urge everyone to stay out of active and abandoned mine sites.

“Some of the features of these sites like steep cliffs, water-filled pits and piles of old mine tailings can look adventuresome and appealing, but they’re dangerous and can be deadly. Additionally, unmarked shafts can give way with no warning and off-road vehicles and bicycles are no match for heavy equipment.”

Since 2000, 32 people have died trespassing in mines and quarries in 19 Pennsylvania counties. The U.S. Mine Safety and Heath Administration, or MSHA, reports that 275 people have died nationally during that same period.

To combat this problem, DEP partnered with MSHA, other mining states and the mining industry to promote the Stay Out - Stay Alive program.

DEP conducts educational programs for community groups and distributes Stay Out - Stay Alive information to those receiving hunting and fishing licenses through the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Fish and Boat Commission. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources also distributes Stay Out – Stay Alive information with all off-road vehicle and snowmobile registrations and to users of state parks and forests. Additionally, DEP works with state and local police and emergency responders to identify and limit access to dangerous sites. Pennsylvania has the largest abandoned mine lands problem in the nation. Approximately 1 million Pennsylvanians live within one mile of a dangerous abandoned mine, while active mining operations are found in all but one of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.

“Pennsylvania has been blessed with great mineral resources, and modern mining regulations do not allow you to leave a mine in this condition, but the unregulated mining practices of the past have left us with one-quarter million acres of dangerous and deadly mine lands,” Hanger said. “When you venture into these sites, you put your life and the lives of emergency personnel who conduct the search and rescue operations at risk.”

Reclamation of the abandoned Newport Township site is paid for by the federal Abandoned Mine Lands Fund, which is overseen by the U. S. Office of Surface Mining. The fund is supported by a fee on the modern mining industry and is distributed to states as annual grants to reclaim mine sites that were abandoned prior to passage of the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. The contractor is grading and backfilling the pit and highwall using 367,000 cubic yards of on-site mine spoil. The land will be vegetated with a grass/legume mixture specifically designed to grow on reclaimed mine lands. Work will be completed in early fall.

Governor Edward G. Rendell was instrumental in working with Congress and other coal mining states to preserve the abandoned mine fund for another 15 years. Pennsylvania will receive $29 million from the fund in 2009 and is projected to receive $1.1 billion by 2022.

DEP completed 73 abandoned mine reclamation projects at a cost of more than $39 million in 2008 that reclaimed more than 1,142 acres of mine-scarred lands and will restore life to dead streams. Another 42 reclamation projects are underway in Pennsylvania that will reclaim 1,828 acres of abandoned mine lands at a projected cost of $52 million.

To report a dangerous abandoned mine, contact DEP’s Bureau of Mine Safety in Uniontown, Fayette County, at 724-439-7469 or Pottsville, Schuylkill County, at 570-621-3139.

For more information, visit www.depweb.state.pa.us, keyword: Stay Out Stay Alive.

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