Nick Hood looked at the gray-black mound of coal waste that looms over the valley. From the spot where he stood on a road outside Graysville, the lake of sludge created from treating coal wasn’t visible but very much on his mind.
“There’s already two other ones, probably the same size,” said Hood, a community organizer with the Center for Coalfield Justice. “That’s bigger than Duke Lake, and it’s holding toxic water.”
Hood and his colleagues showed reporters the disposal site on Wednesday following a public hearing on Consol Pennsylvania Mining Co.’s application for a discharge permit it will need as part of its plans to create a new, similar one for waste from its Bailey Mine Complex.
News media, Consol representatives and state Department of Environmental Protection officials outnumbered the few locals who came and went during the two-hour period set aside for testimony in the Morris Township Community Center in Nineveh Village.
Consol spokesman Zach Smith said the requirements the company would have to follow under the permit – which would regulate the the outflow from a proposed slurry impoundment into two streams that are located at proposed disposal site and feed Enlow Fork – are intended to protect local water quality.
“I think essentially that’s what the permit is for,” Smith said. “And what this public conference is for. It’s just to manage the discharge.”
The permit would set limits for solid particles and various metals – manganese, aluminum and iron – and requires monitoring, including reports on amounts of sulfide and chloride in the streams, plus pH levels.
“We make the company test the background of the stream, use that information along with – especially with a new facility – historic data to make sure that that is going to be able to meet the limits that we prescribe for that stream,” said Troy Williams, environmental group manager for DEP’s California District Mining Office.
The DEP previously approved a coarse coal refuse disposal site that would be part of the same set of plans, which involve using the coarse waste to dam a valley and create a lined impoundment for the slurry that’s a byproduct of the chemical process used in washing coal.
DEP officials said the disposal sites and related infrastructure like conveyor belts to carry the waste to it and erosion controls would cover 900 acres, or 1.4 square miles.
The Bailey complex includes the Bailey, Enlow Fork and Harvey mines and is the largest underground mining complex in the country and has enough reserves for some 25 years of production.
Consol estimated a lifespan of 15 years for the refuse site. When they are no longer active, the sites are capped, covered in soil and remain subject to monitoring.
Max Loughman, who’s retired, attended the hearing with his brother, Van. The siblings live on their grandfather’s old homestead in the Browns Creek area of Morris.
“This particular permit doesn’t affect us,” he said. “We’re just here to learn.”
He said he was surprised more people didn’t attend, but noted the timing of the proceeding – which started at 1 p.m. on a weekday – probably played a role.
DEP spokeswoman Lauren Fraley said the public has “several options to share their input, which we appreciate and considers seriously.”
The DEP is accepting written comments about the project until Aug. 1.
Hood said CCJ had received many more responses about the proposal. The group, which requested the public hearing in a May submission to DEP, said many of its members shared the group’s concerns about the potential effects on water quality.
Hood – one of just two people who testified during the hearing – said the public hadn’t been able to give input before the site was chosen.
The other speaker, Duncan Horner, said he passes the proposed disposal site when he and his wife drive on Stringtown Road to get from Pittsburgh, where he lives, to the farm they own in Richhill Township.
He asked for a barrier of trees along the road to shield the sludge impoundment from view – something DEP officials later said they couldn’t require for the application.
“We’ve watched the valley being taken over,” Horner said. “Consol has bought up all the properties around and demolished them.”