The Department of Environmental Protection will spend $13.4 million to remove an abandoned coal pile that has overshadowed a Cambria County city since the 1960s.
“They just built this large, large hill of waste and it literally looms over the town,” said DEP spokesman John Poister.
The pile, located in Ehrenfeld, Pa., formed before the DEP created any regulations specific to its existence, and the mining company is no longer responsible for the land. The site is immune to environmental protection laws.
“The mining companies that owned those sites were long gone, long out of business. There’s no responsible party to implement any kind of regulation,” Poister said.
Coal dust from the pile has been detected in a local tributary to the Little Conemaugh River, and the pile caught fire at some point and continues to smolder under the surface. Poister said some days, the smoke from the coal fire will envelop the town.
Rosebud Mining Company won the multi-million dollar contract and will take the material with the stated intention of filling another abandoned mine nearby. Company officials have said they plan to employ laid-off workers from the old mining company and utilize old equipment, which will help cut costs.
The whole process is expected to take three years.
“It’s literally 3.2 million tons of material that has to be taken out of that area," Poister said. "So that’s not something you can do quickly. It has to be done methodically and it has to be done safely."
A recreational park called the “Path of the Flood Trail,” commemorating the Johnstown flood of 1889, is planned to replace the coal pile.
The community is happy to see it go, Poister said.
“I think a lot of people probably didn’t believe that it would be removed in their lifetime," he said.