Feds to Fix Forward Township Mine Drains

By ERIC SLAGLE Daily News Staff Writer

  A federal agency says it will take steps to reduce an accumulation of underground mine water before it breaks loose and potentially damages homes and property in Forward Township .
  According to the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, mine drains located along Rainbow Run Road have become clogged with iron sludge and are preventing discharge of drainage from a mine pool.
  Due to the limited drainage, a recent report by the OSM says “the mine pool has risen to a level where it threatens to break out in an uncontrolled manner.” Should a blowout of the large underground pool of water occur, the OSM report says it likely would “cause substantial property damage” to several homes located in the area of old mines in Sunnyside and threaten the health and safety of residents and drivers along Route 136.
  Last week, the OSM announced that it is taking advantage of federal mining laws that give federal agents police powers to go on properties near the mine without permission to assess the problem.
  Rick Balogh, chief of the OSM’s Pittsburgh team, said the agency made the announcement because it has



made diligent efforts to obtain permission from property owners but has been unable to obtain voluntary consent from everyone in the affected area.
  “We don’t want to inconvenience people any more than we have to,” said Balogh, but he added that acting quickly is important.
  He said the state Department of Environmental Protection, which has been monitoring the situation, contacted the OSM about the buildup because it has the authority to act more quickly than the state agency.
  If the underground pool were to blow out, Balogh said it could release a blast of water “10 feet high and 8 feet wide.” “That has the potential to do serious property damage and (have) horrendous environmental impact,” he said.
  Several neighbors who live in the affected areas said they don’t have any problem with the OSM addressing the problem.
  One woman who lives near the Gallatin Sunnyside fire station and has a run-off stream in her back yard, who did not wish to be identified, said, “If it lets loose up there, it would be sheer devastation.” The resident said she’s not had a lot of troubles from the creek, though several years ago she did report to the state that the stream had turned an even deeper orange from
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 sulfur than is usual. She said agents came out and took care of the problem.
  The latest project does not address treatment of pollutants in the water that eventually flows under Route 136 and railroad tracks and into the Monongahela River. Flows coming from the mine are bright orange because of a high sulfur content in the water.
  Jerry Richardson, whose property neighbors the stream, said, “It would be good if they could clean it up.” A lifelong resident of the area, Richardson said his home on Sunnyside Hollow Road used to have well water, but he had to give it up about 18 years ago when the state determined that the well was contaminated by mining.
  Across the road from his house there is a trickle of mine drainage water that flows toward Route 136. Richardson said the flow used to be heavier.
  Balogh said the scope of the project does not address pollution in the water flowing from the mine but he said it will not create a spike in the amount of pollutants that reach the river, because the flow coming out of the mine drains will be controlled by gate valves.
  “It will be put at a rate the river can handle,” said Balogh, noting the mine drainage already is going



into the river. “It’s not an environmental risk.” “No, it’s not good for the river but if we do it at (a safe) rate its not going to be harm ful either,” he said, adding that if a blowout occurred it would have a harmful environmental impact on the river.
  The cost of treating the drainage to remove pollutants “would be phenomenal,” Balogh said. “Our funding is too limited to allow us to do that.” Three mine drains are installed into closed mine portals on the hillside above Route 136 that eventually drain into the river using a series of drains, drop inlets, channels and buried pipes along the road that also serve as a storm water run-off system for the area.
  The OSM plans to inspect, clean and, if necessary, replace the above-ground drainage system leading to the river first. Once it’s been determined that system can handle an increased flow from the mine, work to clear the drains leading from the mines will begin. An estimated cost on the project is not yet available. “It’s something that needs to be done,” Forward Township Supervisor Dave Magiske said. Magiske noted that the township has gotten complaints about water from the mines. Last year, he said, the township had to treat pools of the water because they were becoming a breeding area for mosquitoes.
  He said the drainage problems aren’t new. He said the area has had water back-up problems for 30 or 40 years.
  OSM expects to begin work on the project within the next 30 days.

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