Important Rustic Ridge Deep Mine Update

As MWA has discussed before multiple times, we have been fighting the Rustic Ridge mine for various reasons – the effect on property values, traffic, air pollution, aesthetic beauty of our community, etc. However, in front of the Environmental Hearing Board, our case primarily rested on the effect the mine has on our watershed. In particular, we had two strong points in our case: 1) The barrier between the old Melcroft mine and Rustic Ridge was insufficient, and a breach could lead to devastating discharges in our watershed and 2) The discharges into Champion Creek would overwhelm the stream and our watershed.

On appeal, the judge’s role would have been to review the Departmentā€™s permitting decisions. To overturn a permitting decision, we were required to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that DEP either abused its discretion or acted contrary to law. While overturning a permitting decision is never easy, we engaged numerous experts who would help us carry our burden and establish for the Board the devastating impacts the mine would have under the current permit.

Over the past several days, MWA was able to secure commitments from LCT to amend the most egregious problems with its permits. First, the barrier between Melcroft #3 and Rustic Ridge will be increased from 800 feet under the current permit to 1,400 feet. Our mining expert, John Morgan, has confirmed that 1,400 feet and installation of a piezometer in the barrier to detect any changes will protect the watershed from future discharges. Second, the flow from Outfall 003 into Champion Creek will be dramatically reduced from what was allowed under LCT’s NPDES permit. The reduced flow will ensure that Champion Creek is not put into a constant state of flooding. With our demands regarding our strongest arguments met, we realized that the best course of action we could take for the community was to negotiate for greater quality of life protections. And that’s exactly what we did.

In addition to securing greater barriers and reducing the flow into Champion Creek, LCT further committed to reducing blasting noise and providing notification of blasting to neighboring residents; relocating their ventilation fan to reduce noise impacts; utilizing canopy and dark-sky approved lighting to reduce light spillage; committing to tree plantings; re-surveying wells and local springs; among another commitments.

Our lawyers and mining expert worked to establish the greatest protections for not only our watershed but also our communities. The commitments that were secured go well beyond what could have been achieved before the Environmental Hearing Board. After working out these stipulations, the proposed settlement was presented to our Board. Following a lengthy discussion, our Board approved the settlement.

While LCT’s permits are now much stronger and more protective, this battle is not over. We are going to have to continue monitoring LCT and make sure that they abide by their permits and these stipulations. We can also discuss other avenues for advocacy or the potential for civil litigation. This may not have been the outcome that we wanted, but now the mine will at minimum have to abide by regulations much stricter than the DEP’s and hopefully set a precedent for mines elsewhere.

If you have any immediate questions, please feel free to reach out to Melissa Marshall, or Beverly Braverman. Otherwise, MWA will continue monitoring all mining activity to ensure that LCT meets the stipulations agreed upon by the settlement in order to continue upholding their mission of protecting, preserving, and restoring the Indian Creek and greater Youghiogheny River watersheds.