We apologize in advance for this lengthy post but hope you’ll stick with us until the end.
LCT Energy LP has proposed an underground mine in the Donegal and Saltlick Township areas of the Indian Creek watershed. The permit for the Rustic Ridge #1 mine was issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) on December 23, 2016. We have serious concerns about risks to community health and safety given the history of abandoned mine drainage in the Indian Creek watershed. The history of deep mining in our area is one of acidic discharges, aluminum contamination, and loss of pristine headwater streams. The Indian Creek watershed spans approximately 125 square miles and contains over 130 known discharges from abandoned coal mines. These discharges have contaminated surface water, wells and springs. People in our community have mine drainage backup in their basements and yards. Miles of stream are too polluted to swim or fish. The burden of this pollution has been borne by our community for decades.
PADEP denied the issuance of a very similar permit (called the Rand Am mine) in a 1994 decision that was ultimately upheld by the Environmental Hearing Board in 1996. PADEP cited the likelihood of the mine to create additional discharges as basis for the denial. The Rustic Ridge #1 mine includes portions of the proposed Rand Am footprint. There have been no major geologic changes in the permitted area since 1994 that would reduce the potential for harms previously identified by PADEP. In issuing this permit the PADEP has ignored its own findings.
On January 13, 2017 we filed an appeal of the issuance of the permit for the Rustic Ridge #1 mine with the Environmental Hearing Board.
Specifically, our concerns are:
- ‘Barriers’ are undisturbed portions of rock and coal which separate a mine from the surface and from other mines or bodies of water. Our experts believe LCT’s proposed barrier is inadequate to prevent toxic metals and pollutional mine drainage from impacting the Indian Creek watershed. Our experts believe that the proposed barrier between the proposed mine and the old Melcroft No. 3 mine is insufficient to prevent illicit discharges into the Indian Creek watershed and that the DEP did not adequately assess this risk.
- The same water pollution was predicted by PADEP in 1994 when it denied the Rand Am deep mine proposal which shares some of the same areas as the Rustic Ridge footprint. As stated in the Rand Am decision, the best predictor of the water quality effects of future mining is past mining in the area– and the Indian Creek Watershed has already been significantly impacted by past mining. The taxpayers of Pennsylvania have made an investment of approximately $8 million to clean up existing mine drainage in the Indian Creek watershed. These efforts have had a measurable impact on water quality and subsequently the quality of life in Indian Creek and the Youghiogheny River watersheds.
- The noise assessment was inadequate because the most impactful noise levels, including noise due to blasting and heavy equipment operations, were not properly accounted for A noise assessment was provided by LCT but it was inadequate in many respects. LCT concluded that, in part because of the rural location, noise will be a “non-issue” for this project. Yet for those who live in the area because of the quiet and serenity it affords, the noise from blasting, heavy equipment operations and truck traffic will be far from a “non-issue”.
- LCT will discharge 1,500 – 2,055 gallons per minute (gpm) of treated mine water into Champion Creek. Measured stream discharge at the proposed mine discharge site during wintertime normal flow was approximately 648 gpm. Summertime stream base-flow discharge is roughly half of that (300-400 gpm). The proposed discharge greatly exceeds the discharge of the receiving stream itself. The flow levels caused by LCT’s proposed discharge can harm property as well as insect and fish populations.
- Issuance of the permit violates the Environmental Rights Amendment. Article 1 Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution provides that the people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.
Vision for Restoration
MWA’s Comprehensive Plan was created with assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the PADEP Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation. It serves as a blueprint for restoring the Indian Creek watershed. Our plan shows that treating the 11 worst mine discharges in the watershed will restore 95% of Indian Creek. We have constructed six passive mine drainage treatment projects with additional systems in the planning phase. The community has invested over $8 million in the restoration of Indian Creek from mine drainage. Our experts have found that inadequate barriers proposed by LCT could result in new discharges which jeopardize this progress and the investment in clean water.
Additionally, the cost/benefit analysis completed for our comprehensive plan showed that every $1 spent on restoring the watershed would result in a return of $2.40 from recreational fishing alone. Tourism has the potential to be a major economic driver in our region. Our vision is to restore Indian Creek to a thriving cold-water stream that provides recreational and economic opportunities for residents and visitors alike.
The Mountain Watershed Association is committed to working toward a just transition in our community and other coal-impacted areas. In our community and throughout much of Appalachia, coal has been mined, transported and processed for well over 100 years. This was dangerous and difficult work, and our nation was built on the backs of these men and women. But the economy of our region and the world is shifting away from a fossil-fuel based economy. Despite the inherent challenges, the transition to a diversified and sustainable economy must include a vision for the creation of strong communities. At best, continued extraction of coal to feed a dying industry delays this important work. At worst, it creates new water pollution that will plague our community for generations to come.
Is Our Community for Sale? A Vague Promise
Since becoming aware of LCT’s intention to apply for the Rustic Ridge permit several years ago, MWA consistently maintained our commitment to appeal the permit, if issued. We clearly conveyed to both PADEP and LCT that an appeal was necessary because our experts found there was no safe and financially viable way in which to mine this site. Several days after the permit was issued, LCT announced it would fund a “Community Trust” in the amount of $2 million so long as no one in the community appealed the issuance of the permit. In the event of an appeal LCT has stated funds would instead need to be used to defend the permit in litigation. LCT’s refusal to fund a trust in light of our permit appeal shows both their lack of commitment to our community and their lack of confidence in their proposal. MWA’s mission statement and bylaws do not allow us to ignore the problems our consultants have predicted.
Support the Effort
We will continue to advocate for the protection of our watershed. The issuance of this permit is not the end of the fight. Our battle has just begun. Please consider making a contribution to our Deep Mine Defense Fund by visiting mtwatershed.com/donate. To volunteer, contact Jordan Hoover at (724) 455-4200 ext. 6# or firstname.lastname@example.org.