As of April 2016 the proposed Curry mine has been defeated! In 2016 the Pennsylvania DEP revoked the permit for the Curry surface mine because it was not activated within 3 years of issuance. We petitioned the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas to declare the zoning special exception Amerikohl received for the site as moot as it was also not acted upon within the proper time period required by the zoning ordinance. On April 19, 2016 the court granted our land use appeal and declared the special exception for the proposed Curry Mine to be void. At this point, Amerikohl has neither a DEP permit nor a zoning special exception to mine the proposed Curry site—meaning it would have to reapply to both the Department of Environmental Protection and the Fayette County Zoning Hearing Board in order to pursue a mining project on the property.
Decision from Department of Interior on Illegal Logging Practices Pending
Despite our best efforts to stop it, in 2010 Amerikohl Mining received a permit to surface mine 264 acres in this otherwise pristine area. In 2013 the site was heavily logged. Sediment-laden water began flowing from the site almost immediately. We filed complaints with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP)’s Bureau of Mining (BOM). BOM responded that because coal removal had not begun, the logging should be regulated PADEP’s Waterways and Wetlands Bureau. This bureau then asserted they had no authority because the logging took place on a permitted mine site and should be regulated by BOM.
While Waterways and Wetlands and the Bureau of Mining pointed fingers at one another, sediment continued to pour into the Youghiogheny River, causing an immense plume of muddy water in the river. On December 31, 2013, Krissy Kasserman, Youghiogheny Riverkeeper, filed a complaint with the federal Office of Surface Mining (OSM). OSM gave PADEP an opportunity to provide the enforcement necessary to correct the problem. PADEP took a pass. OSM conducted a site visit and found the site had been logged extensively without any attempt to control erosion—not one single hay bale was present. Sediment flowed into the river unabated. OSM issued a notice of violation to Amerikohl requiring site stabilization. Amerikohl did nothing. With our continued input, OSM conducted a second inspection several weeks later—and found sediment continued to pour into the river. OSM then issued a cessation order to Amerikohl requiring that all activities on the site cease immediately.
Amerikohl appealed to the US Department of the Interior’s Office of Hearings and Appeals, again stating the landowner was responsible for the logging. The appeal was heard before a Department of the Interior Administrative Law Judge who ruled “PADEP’s conclusion that Amerikohl was not involved in the timbering company was factually incorrect.” The judge further stated, “Additionally, because Curry was doing many things to facilitate mining operations through its timbering activities, the timbering itself was a surface mining activity subject to PADEP’s regulatory authority.” The judge then affirmed the notice of violation and the cessation order issued to Amerikohl by OSM.
The decision is a victory for several reasons. First, and most importantly, it will result in site stabilization activities that will ultimately slow or stop the flow of sediment into the Youghiogheny River. It also supports our position that logging on a permitted mining site is indeed a mining activity and should be regulated as such by the PADEP. Finally, it affirms the failure of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to provide proper enforcement of an issue on a permitted mining site in a high-quality watershed. Our constant pressure and subsequent engagement of the Office of Surface Mining is the only reason the site was ultimately stabilized and the sediment stream slowed.
Amerikohl has appealed this decision to the Department of the Interior Board of Land Appeals. We filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of the Office of Surface Mining, and are awaiting a decision. Stay tuned as we await a decision from the Interior Board of Land Appeals and for more information please visit our blog.