DEP Alleges Coal Company Covered up Untreated Mine Discharge in Fayette County

HARRISBURG – The Department of Environmental Protection charged Purco Coal Inc. with intentionally discharging untreated acid mine drainage to an “exceptional value” stream in Fayette County, and concealing the discharge to prevent DEP from discovering it.

DEP has ordered the company to implement an interim treatment system, submit plans for a permanent system and reimburse the department for a grant associated with the work that uncovered the discharge.

“Deliberately polluting a stream and then concealing it to avoid any obligation to treat acid mine discharge will not be tolerated,” said DEP Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty. “We’ll do what it takes to correct this deplorable situation.”

In 1983, Purco Coal reported no flow from a seep that was identified previously as a deep mine discharge from the Watkiss Mine in Stewart Township, Fayette County. About the same time, though, Jonathan Run near the mine began to show signs of pollution.
The Watkiss Mine was closed in 1989. Repeated DEP inspections of the mine site and reclamation work there showed no discharges.

Based on these inspections, DEP returned the Purco Coal’s bond money in 1995. The company was required to post the bond in order to guarantee the site’s reclamation and that no acid mine discharge was coming from the former mine.

However, the acid mine discharge continued into Jonathan Run, which is rated as an exceptional value waterway—the highest quality designation available in Pennsylvania. In 2003, the Chestnut Ridge Chapter of Trout Unlimited received a $37,845 Growing Greener grant to design a treatment system for this discharge.

While investigating the discharge near the Watkiss Mine, Trout Unlimited members discovered two 4-inch pipes buried under the ground, discharging untreated mine water onto state game lands and into Jonathan Run.

“We believe Purco Coal officials buried these pipes to conceal their deliberate action of not fulfilling the legal requirement to treat any discharge from their mine site,” McGinty said. “Jonathan Run is polluted as a result.”

DEP has ordered Purco Coal to remove the underground pipes, construct an interim acid mine drainage treatment system, submit a plan for a permanent treatment system, and reimburse the Growing Greener program the $37,845 paid to Trout Unlimited.

“Our mine reclamation and clean streams laws were passed to prevent just this type of situation. Deliberately breaking these laws and polluting one of our state’s highest quality streams is about as bad as it gets,” McGinty said.

DEP retains the option of administering appropriate penalties or sanctions against Purco Coal, pending the resolution of the Watkiss Mine situation. Purco Coal has submitted an application to mine another site in Fayette County, which will not be approved by DEP until this violation is resolved satisfactorily.

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