Stories of the River: The Picklo’s

Mike and Mary Jo Picklo bought their dream retirement home in the Appalachian
Mountains in 2003. Nestled remotely in the Laurel Highlands, their 5 acres overlooked rolling
hills of farmland and was where they thought they would spend the rest of their lives. They had
a luscious garden, berry bushes, even a chicken coop for fresh eggs. In 2017 the Acosta Deep
Mine was open 680 feet away from their front porch and everything changed. Their dream home
became a living nightmare and the Picklo’s were nearly alone in their battle against Corsa Coal
in their predominantly pro-coal community.

The opening ceremony of the Acosta Deep Mine was attended by Governor Tom Wolf
and President Donald Trump addressed the crowd in a video. About a football field away from
the celebration, Mike and Mary Jo and members of the Mountain Watershed Association
protested. By this time, 61 blasts had already gone off to open the mine. These blasts released
clouds of dust, covering the Picko’s home, even making its way into their refrigerator. The
vibrations from the blasts caused permanent damage to the structure of the home. Knowing it
was only going to get worse, they filed suits with Corsa Coal and DEP to no avail. Mike Picklo
says the night of the opening ceremony, Tom Wolf refused to walk across the street to speak to
him about what was happening to his home.

“The Mountain Watershed were the only people we could talk to that actually
understood,” says Mary Jo, “They tried everything they could, the advice they gave, just
knowing someone was there listening to us.” Members of the Mountain Watershed not only
helped organize the protest the night of the mine opening, but they provided education and
support to the Picklo’s as they navigated their difficult legal battle. “As a private individual, it is
impossible to fight for yourself. Mountain Watershed was the only group that tried to help us,”
says Mike, “but the laws are in place to protect the companies and not you.” The Picklo’s
attorney dropped them within the month of their court date due to poor health. If it wasn’t for the
Mountain Watershed, they would not have been able to find adequate representation in time.
“We were blown in the wind with no help or support, the Mountain Watershed was the only
group we could turn to.” says Mary Jo.

After years of trying to salvage their home, the Picklo’s bought another house in
Johnstown where they now live. Unable to sell their dream home due to the damages and loss
of property value, the Picklo’s now use it for storage.They still have a garden there where they
grow things the coal dust won’t penetrate, like tomatoes and peppers, but no leafy greens.
There is a swamp now in front of their former chicken coop from the blasts damaging their
underground aquifer. The water is undrinkable due to high levels of coliform and the noise
from the mine never ceases. What remains is a haunting reminder of the world the Picklo’s
worked hard to build for themselves, and one they fought even harder to keep. Mike and Mary
Jo encourage anyone in a similar situation to reach out to the Mountain Watershed for support.