A proposed coal mine is moving forward in southwestern Pennsylvania after its operator reached a settlement with an environmental group.
The Mountain Watershed Association raised concerns that LCT Energy’s Rustic Ridge mining operation could contaminate the Indian Creek Watershed. The parties reached a settlement this week after the watershed group had appealed the mine’s permits to the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board.
As a result, LCT has agreed to several environmental safeguards at its deep mine slated to span the townships of Donegal and Saltlick.
Beverly Braverman, executive director of the Mountain Watershed Association, said her group was concerned about the mine’s proximity to an abandoned mine known as Melcroft 3. LCT had planned to maintain an 800-foot barrier between the two projects. But under the settlement, it agreed to nearly double that distance to prevent wastewater from seeping from one mine into the other.
“Having additional gallons and gallons of mine water pushing through into Melcroft No. 3 just would be a huge disaster for this watershed,” Braverman said.
LCT has also agreed to reduce the amount of wastewater it intended to discharge into a creek, and it will send a host of information to Braverman’s group, which plans to monitor the mine’s activities and impact on the watershed.
“If we don’t, they might not happen according to the agreement,” she said.
The company said in a statement that it will still be able to maintain a “robust” production schedule despite the stipulations outlined in the settlement.
The Rustic Ridge operation will mine for metallurgical coal, the type of coal used in steelmaking.
“LCT is committed to constructively working with MWA and being a contributing member of the greater Laurel Highlands’ community,” president Mark Tercek said.
Braverman, however, expressed disappointment with the outcome.
“I was hoping they would pack their bags and go away,” she said. “We don’t support mining. We don’t support mining in this watershed.”
Her group fought another mine proposed for a similar area in the 1990s, and its permits were ultimately denied. The association has since served as a watchdog for the watershed and is involved in treating discharges from old mines.
The group recently finished testing the health of some of the watershed’s streams, which involved collecting water samples and identifying the number and variety of bugs. She said every sample tested met the threshold for a healthy stream, a far cry from 15 years ago when her group identified 17 miles indicating damage.
This story was published in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration between WESA, Allegheny Front, WITF and WHYY, to cover the commonwealth’s energy economy. Read more stories at StateImpact Pennsylvania's website.