A Fayette-based environmental organization is opposing a coal mine company’s request to renew its permit for the Rustic Ridge No. 1 Mine in the Donegal region.
Mountain Watershed Association monitors Rustic Ridge No. 1’s environmental impacts. 1 Mine, prefers “that the mine is not permitted” for renewal, said Stacey Magda, community organizer for the Melcroft-based organization. Magda said that the association would seek to mitigate problems such as mine subsidence and water supplies being damaged. Mountain Watershed and Rustic Ridge reached a settlement in 2018 over issues related to their operations.
The Department of Environmental Protection has scheduled an informal public conference in a virtual setting from 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 26 for LCT Energy LP’s request for a five-year renewal of its coal mining, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System and air quality permits for another five years. The permits are considered “administratively extended” until the department makes a decision on renewing them, said Lauren Fraley, a DEP spokeswoman in Pittsburgh.
Fraley stated that state officials would explain the permit review process and make maps available to answer questions from members of the public.
Fraley explained that while the public hearing allows the public to testify to the DEP about an action under consideration, it is a structured, formal proceeding. There is no back and forth with the DEP. The DEP response is not made public at the conclusion of a hearing.
The original five year permit was issued in December 2016. Therefore, LCT Energy president Mark Tercek said that the company is looking to renew for five more years. LCT Energy is a subsidiary of Robindale Energy & Associated Cos.
LCT Energy’s permit allows it to mine about 2,880 acres in parts of Donegal Township in Westmoreland County and Saltlick Township in Fayette. The mine employs about 100 people and produces metallurgical coke for the production of steel. Tercek said that the Rustic Rock mine produces 38,000 to 40,000 clean tonnes of coal each month.
The company removes the coal through a process known as room-and-pillar mining, which Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences describes as leaving pillars of coal to support the roof of “rooms” where coal is removed.
Mountain Watershed Association reported that three of the five properties that were affected by mine subsidence suffered cracks in the walls, foundation, doors, and windows that would not close. Magda stated that water supplies to other homes have been damaged in an area that depends on private water supplies like wells and springs. Homeowners are in “sensitive” negotiations with LCT Energy to try to resolve the problems, she said.
“It’s causing serious issues,” Magda said. “We’re living it every day.”
Magda said that the environmental group complained that coal dust, which falls from trucks traveling along County Line Road, blackens the road and adds to the snow lining the roadway. Magda said that while the organization monitors water quality in Champion Creek (a tributary of Indian Creek that flows into The Youghiogheny River), Magda has not found any serious impacts on the creek from any runoff.
The coal is trucked from the mine to LCT Energy’s coal washing facility in Central City, Somerset County, where it is transported by a Norfolk Southern Corp. train to domestic steel facilities, as well as sites for exporting the product, Tercek said.
Fraley stated that environmental regulators are currently reviewing a separate permit for LCT Energy to expand its mining operation by approximately 1,410 acres. This is according to the LCT Energy permit application.
The expansion would see mining beneath the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Donegal, Donegal Borough, and north towards Donegal Lake. According to the application, the area has enough coal reserves to support 19 years of mining at 600,000 tons per year.
She added that the DEP received a request to hold an informal public conference about the proposed expansion.
Rosanne Placey spokeswoman for Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. Although they will not be present at the informal public conference, the commission has been notified of plans to expand.
Placey stated that LCT Energy has a lease agreement signed with the turnpike commissioner. It includes strict requirements and high standards for safety and stability in underground mining. Placey also stated that the lease limits the amount of extraction allowed to minimize subsidence along the toll roads.
Placey said that pre-mining surveys were performed on the turnpike structures.
Placey stated that if subsidence occurs, Robindale Energy Cos. would be liable for any damages and compensation.