Final touches are being put on plans by a Johnstown-based company to develop a deep coal mine in Conemaugh Township, Somerset County, a move that has some residents in the area fighting back.
LCT Energy of the 900 block of Menoher Boulevard is proposing a deep mine on property belonging to Carl Yoder of the 1200 block of Penn Avenue in Hollsopple.
The mine will encompass a “couple thousand acres,” underground with the surface disturbance area said to be about 100 acres, said Sean Isgan, project engineer with CME Engineering of Somerset.
The engineering firm is in the process of completing the geological information and mine design with submission of a permit application to the state likely in late spring or early summer, Isgan said.
“This has been ongoing for a couple years and we’re still finalizing everything,” he said.
Permit approval by the state Department of Environmental Protection likely will take about two years, and coal could start coming out of the ground by the end of 2013, Isgan said.
The reserve, which Isgan said could last 20 years, is a combination of coal varieties, including metallurgical and steam.
“This will employ many people, north of 100,” Isgan said.
The design calls for the portal to be located off Route 601 and just east of Route 219.
“It’s a convenient location because we can just hop onto Route 219,” Isgan said.
That location has residents in the Hollsopple-Jerome area upset.
“It’s the portal, where they want to put it. There will be lots of traffic. It will be very loud and a lot of dirt,” said Philip Faranda of the 1100 block of Penn Avenue in Hollsopple.
Adding to the inconvenience with be an exhaust fan, “the size of a small Winnebago,” operated on the site, he said.
“Me and about 50 other neighbors don’t want it here,” said Faranda, who operates Faranda’s Farm, a locally known farm sponsoring a harvest festival each fall with pumpkins, field trips and a corn maze.
A group of residents has met with representatives of the mining company to review maps, and they came away even more determined to fight the proposal.
Any fight will be a difficult one, said longtime Conemaugh Township Supervisor Albert Zuccolotto.
“You will not stop this. No matter what you do, you won’t stop it,” Zuccolotto said. “The only way they will stop it is if the mining company doesn’t meet DEP’s regulations.”
Len Lichvar, district manager of the Somerset County Conservation District, understands the residents’ concerns about dust and dirt, but there is little they can do as long as the mining company meets DEP standards.
“It’s straightforward. If they meet the permit criteria, they will mine. That’s how it works,” he said.
Should DEP deny the mining permit, the company can take the agency to court. The company will win, Lichvar said.
The district has received phone calls from residents seeking information, but nothing formal has crossed Lichvar’s desk.
Once the permit application has been submitted to DEP, a copy will go to the conservation district for review.
“Everybody’s asking about it. It’s a hot topic right now,” he said.
After the application goes to the DEP, local citizens have the right to ask the agency to hold a public meeting for comment on the plan.
Faranda and his neighbors plan to request a public meeting.
“First of all, we have to get organized. We have to give ourselves a name,” Faranda said.
He said there are plans to pull together some photos and documentation of similar portal operations.
The mine already has had its first court challenge of sorts after Conemaugh Township attempted to consolidate and update its local ordinances, Zuccolotto said.
One of the local regulations would have banned coal mining in the area in question.
“We went to court and we lost. They had already been drilling and testing. We didn’t even know that mine was coming in,” he said. “We did everything we could, but the judge said we’re zoned (in that area) for that. We’re zoned for coal mining.”
On a positive note for the residents, a consent agreement between the township and LCT resulted in some added protections for the neighborhood.
The company has agreed to build an earthen berm at least 10 feet high with tree plantings in the area of the portal.
All coal extraction activities will be confined to a pit to be constructed on the Yoder property, and the company will pave and maintain a 500-foot driveway from Route 601.
The township also has a say in the hours of operation.
Mining will be permitted 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But hauling coal from the mine will be limited to between 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Operation of off-road mobile equipment used to load coal trucks also will be limited to between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
The company has agreed to replace private water sources with public sources should problems surface, Zuccolotto said.
“We’re now trying to get as much as we can from the company,” he said.
Hank Parke, director of public relations for PBS Coals of Stoystown Road in Friedens, said creating economic benefits often requires some give and take.
“We want good jobs, and there probably will be a downside (to opening the new mine). Everything needs to be done thoughtfully,” he said.
Parke, who has been in his post for six years, said DEP’s oversight of the coal industry is “amazing.”
Meanwhile, Faranda said opposition to the mine is not about stopping the operation.
It’s about moving the portal elsewhere.
“We’re not against progress. We’re not against helping our economy. We’re just not satisfied with the location,” he said.
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