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Federal, state and county officials tour abandoned mining sites impacting local waterway

June 23, 2020
In The News

Raising awareness to the impact abandoned mine drainage has on Little Anderson Creek was the purpose for a meeting Tuesday.

U.S. Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson, state and Clearfield County officials met at property owned by Reed Johnson and Gary Weber near the Union and Bloom townships’ line.

Those in attendance toured several sites on the property where issues were created by mining performed years ago — including deserted high-walls and collapsed mine entrances.

Johnson told the group of approximately 30 people who gathered there to examine firsthand the influence years of clay mining has had both on his land and Little Anderson Creek that flows through it. Johnson reported he has been working approximately 30 years trying to find a way get the damage created by clay mining cleaned up.

“It’s been a long road trying to get this to happen,” Johnson said. “I’d like to see this (cleaned up) before I’m dead and gone.”

Clearfield County Conservation District’s Watershed Specialist Kelly Williams said the purpose of the meeting was for those in attendance to acquire an in-person understanding of the harm being done not only to the environment and the stream but to Clearfield County’s bottom line.

She said the mouth of Little Anderson Creek has four sources of pollution created by past mining activity contributing to the high levels of acidity and aluminum found in the water.

“This is the purpose of coming out here today. What you are seeing here is echoed across Clearfield County. Clearfield County is the number one county in the state impacted by abandoned mines,” Williams said.

She said the county’s economy is affected by nearly 630 sites in locations across the county where coal and clay mining performed in the past is currently affecting waterways — rendering them useless to recreation such as fishing and boating. She estimated the loss to the county could be as much as $3 million annually.

“That is money that is lost to our local economy,” Williams said.

She told the group that although the point where the stream begins may seem like a solitary site, it is just the beginning as the stream flows into Anderson Creek, making up the Anderson Creek Watershed.

“We wanted to show how important it is to not let sites like this go,” Williams noted. She stressed it is crucial to educate residents about how the impact of abandoned mine drainage affects them personally. “If we can get the discharge cleaned up, it will make a tremendous difference to Clearfield County,” she said.

Thompson told the group it will take teamwork to get the abandoned mine issues under control.

He said while he is proud of the legacy of the land in that clay mined from it was used to make fire bricks for the steel industry that contributed to the U.S.’s second industrial revolution, it came with consequences.

“While that legacy was beneficial to the country, it created scars to the land and the water that now need to be cleaned up,” Thompson explained. He said the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act needs to be reauthorized to help provide funds for important cleanups like the Union Township project.

The act created in 1977 created federal guidelines to regulate mining activities by setting enforceable standards and created the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to oversee the program.

If it is not renewed by the legislature, the current program will expire in 2022. Information provided at the event noted funds distributed through the program between 2007 and 2019 and projected awards for 2020 total $722 million although Pennsylvania’s high priority abandoned mine projects exceed $4.6 billion.

“We need to get this program reauthorized so that we can get projects like this taken care of,” Thompson said.