Last night, community members from the Laurel Highlands and beyond gathered with the Mountain Watershed Association at Laurelville Retreat Center to discuss LCT Energy’s proposed expansion of the Rustic Ridge underground mine complex.
It was a beautiful, late-spring evening. Light filtered softly through the tall windows in the main dining hall, and birds sang outside as the sun dipped below the trees.
Over a hearty dinner catered by our friends at the G&D Market in Melcroft, we got down to business. Community Organizer Stacey Magda and Community Advocate Madison Hinkle took the floor.
First, Stacey explained the legacy of coal mining in the Laurel Highlands. Throughout our watershed, many homes and streams have been forever impacted by mining. Abandoned mines have wreaked havoc on our water systems – we currently have over $9 million invested in abandoned mine drainage remediation in our area. That’s far more than the royalties paid to property owners, and a good portion of it is public tax money.
Those historic mines were tiny compared to the new proposal area from LCT Energy. Melcroft Mines II and III were 650 acres. In contrast, LCT’s currently operating Rustic Ridge I and its proposed expansion, the proposed Rustic Ridge II, and the various mining explorations throughout the area cover a whopping 9000 acres from Melcroft to Stahlstown.
This massive underground mine proposal threatens the heart of the Laurel Highlands. It spans a triple divide area, connecting three watersheds that are integral to the health and welfare of our community. There are 357 private water supplies within the proposed mining area, and the new exploration is also dangerously close to a large piece of protected state land.
LCT Energy is already operating a mine in our area, and it’s actively disrupting residential life and livelihoods:
- Along County Line Road, residents have experienced coal spills, poor road conditions and relentless heavy vehicle traffic.
- MWA has heard at least 10 complaints of subsidence (i.e. people’s land caving in, sometimes under their homes) on Hellein School Road.
- Homeowners who’ve reached out to LCT are suffering – they’ve been forced to sign non-disclosure agreements while their property is assessed for remediation.
- There are also water impacts in and around the mining boundary. Barbara McMillian, a member of our Rustic Ridge committee, passed around a jar of cloudy, orange water from a creek on her property.
Then Madison took the mic. She described the legal rights of a property owner (mineral or surface) and the steps they can take to protect themselves from mining interests.
Property owners have:
- The right to be notified of mining occurring under their property
- An opportunity to comment to DEP
- A public comment period, to which DEP is required to respond
- The right to a pre-mining survey, performed by LCT Energy, depending on the location of the property
(If you would like to know if your property qualifies for a pre-mining survey, reach out to email@example.com)
Property owners outside the official mining zone should start keeping meticulous records. Get your water system tested professionally to set a benchmark of its quality. (Reach out to MWA if you need help with this step!) You should also start a journal to monitor your water, air quality, local road conditions and general quality of life. You can present these records to the mining company if something goes wrong.
We already know how damaging a large, underground coal mine can be. But the permitting system can bore the public to death. It can take years for a permit to go through, and it’s easy to forget about the potential danger and disengage. As one community member told Stacey of the Rustic Ridge I mine, “If I knew this was going to happen, I would have put up a harder fight at the beginning.”
MWA is here to keep everyone engaged so these new mining permits don’t slip through the cracks. Every day we have staff members monitoring current and potential impacts to water, air, groundwater, providing support and watching inspections and violations notices.
What’s the best thing you can do? Do not sign a lease to allow mining under your property. Your mineral rights may extend beyond the surface area of your home. By protecting them, you’re also protecting your neighbors and possibly your entire community. If you don’t own your mineral rights, talk to your neighbors and express your concerns–this is a team effort!
Industrial interest in the Laurel Highlands isn’t going away soon. But if our community stays together, stays informed and stays active, we can slow it down and hold companies accountable.
Sign our letter to the PA DEP!
Concerned residents and the MWA will be presenting this letter to decisionmakers in our capital city in June 2023! Sign on to the letter and join us in solidarity!
Is your property in danger?
Eric Harder, our Youghiogheny Riverkeeper, made this interactive Google Map of the current and proposed Rustic Ridge mining operations. Use the search button in the top left of the page and add your address. Then zoom out to see what boundary you are within. Each boundary is color-coded in the map key on the left (underground mining boundary, 1000-foot buffer, etc). You can select and deselect boundaries by checking the boxes on the key.