Critz: Barnes-Watkins Reclamation Project Receives National Award
JOHNSTOWN, PA — Congressman Mark S. Critz (PA-12) announced today that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Barnes-Watkins Refuse Pile Reclamation Project, located in Cambria County, has received the 2010 Appalachian Region Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Award by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM). The award recognizes the best mine reclamation project in OSM’s Appalachian Region.
“For decades, the Barnes-Watkins refuse pile was a source of pollution to the Susquehanna River watershed and the local community,” commented Critz. “By cleaning up and reclaiming the land, we have significantly improved water quality while creating an opportunity for future economic development.”
OSM Director Joe Pizarchik added: “The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation is to be commended for its remarkable success in eliminating the dangers this abandoned mine site posed to the public and the environment. The benefits that high-quality abandoned mine reclamation provides to surrounding communities are many: minimizing safety hazards, eliminating hazardous runoffs into streams, and turning eyesores into attractive landscapes. The Abandoned Mine Land Program demonstrates what state and Federal partnerships can achieve for communities,” he added.
The Barnes-Watkins refuse pile contained 1.3 million tons of coal refuse, covered 18 acres and was situated on the bank of and, in some locations, directly in the West Branch Susquehanna River. The refuse pile increased the concentrations of iron and aluminum in the West Branch. Acidity increased an average of 170 milligrams per liter downstream of the refuse pile compared to water upstream. The refuse pile also was burning, posing air quality concerns for nearby residents. In addition to the environmental and health hazards it posed, the refuse pile contained steep, dangerous embankments.
This reclamation project successfully eliminated dangerous piles and embankments, eliminated the material burning within the refuse pile, and largely eliminated the site’s Priority 3 water problems. The surrounding community is now safer because these hazards have been eliminated. In addition, community residents no longer have to deal with the dust from the pile and the sulfuric smell of the refuse fire.
This project also produced significant results for the West Branch Susquehanna River. The river now has room to properly flood and dissipate energy during high-water events, instead of flooding into the refuse pile, and is no longer filtering through the pile as it tries to follow the old riverbed through where the pile once stood. As a result, the water chemistry of the West Branch Susquehanna has improved dramatically.
Begun in 1992, OSM’s Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Awards showcase exemplary reclamation techniques. Abandoned Mine Land (AML) projects funded wholly or in part and completed by approved state or tribal programs are eligible for the awards, which cover coal, non-coal, and emergency reclamation projects. A panel of judges, composed of directors of state reclamation programs and OSM managers, voted to determine the winners. This year, OSM is recognizing five reclamation projects: one project judged to be the best in the nation, one small-scale reclamation project, and one project from each of OSM’s three regions (Appalachian, Mid-Continent, and Western).
OSM and its state and tribal partners are responsible under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) for reclaiming and restoring land and water degraded by mining operations abandoned before this law was passed. OSM administers a fund, which collects from a fee on current coal production nationwide, that pays for reclamation work. In Fiscal Year 2010 alone, OSM has allocated $369 million in AML funds, of which Pennsylvania was allocated $43.8 million. In addition to providing for funding to reclaim abandoned mine lands, SMCRA requires mine operators to protect citizens and the environment from the hazards posed by surface coal mining and restore mine lands to beneficial uses once mining is completed. For more information about OSM, visit www.osmre.gov.
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