Nearly 150 miners were forced onto unemployment June 13 after DEP shut down Lickman's two mining operations, Harriman Coal and Kocher Coal. The state agency refused to renew the mining licenses, citing the company's unwillingness to resolve long-standing violations of environmental laws.
Acid water runoff from mine
Harriman Coal and Kocher Coal together make one of the larger nonunion strip mining operations in northeast Pennsylvania's anthracite coal region. They face citations and fines over acid mine water runoff from the Porter Tunnel Mine. Kocher Coal has been in violation of administrative orders to treat or abate acid mine drainage from the Porter Tunnel Mine for some time. Harriman's license was also denied initially in March 1999 over this pollution. It was granted when the company agreed to a consent order with DEP.
According to DEP, Harriman has not adhered to the provisions of that order. He has amassed fines totaling $158,000 as a result. DEP states that the acid mine discharge flows into the Wiconisco Creek at a rate as high as 2,500 gallons per minute.
This year, when the same problems were raised again, Lickman refused to sign DEP's consent order, which lays out a specific timetable and fines for continued violation of its terms. According to the Pottsville Republican Herald, Lickman stated, "They attempt to coerce you to sign agreements that are so onerous.... I'm not the only person in the business that's been subjected to these terror tactics."
Lickman's counterproposals were rejected by the state agency. He plans to challenge DEP's actions by filing suit either in commonwealth or federal court.
Lickman bought the Kocher/Porter tunnel mine in 1994. No coal has been mined there since March 1, 1977, when an underground stream flooded the mine, killing nine miners and trapping another for five days. Ninety others escaped unharmed. This same stream is the source of the acid discharge today.
The Lehigh Coal and Navigation Co., another large anthracite stripping corporation, has also been cited twice by DEP in a three- month period for polluting local rivers.
In early August, the source of the pollution was overflowing collection pools, where water runoff from the mining operations is held to allow coal particles and dirt to settle out.
The Pottsville Republican Herald carried a report, a week and a half earlier that Panther Creek, which feeds into the Little Schuylkill, was a greenish-brown color. The article quotes Michael Perry, a local resident, saying, "I've seen it black, green, orange--almost like an orange oxide color. I've seen it purple. I've seen it red. I've never seen it clear."
Jeff Zalsak was quoted as saying that his high school class tested the water last year to see if the pollution was acid mine water. "It was real base," he said. "It was like three points below seven. I don't know how fish can live in it." There are also reports that the water often has a foul sulfur smell.
Lehigh Coal and Navigation Co. was previously cited May 5 for allowing acid mine drainage into the Little Schuylkill River. This runoff came from the high water levels in the bottom of the huge 111 stripping pit between Tamaqua and Coaldale. The water was about 300 feet deep in the pit then and needed to be lowered about 37 feet to be in compliance with LC&N's mining plan. Lehigh is anxious to get the water level down so it can mine about 70,000 tons of anthracite coal covered by water.
The DEP gave LC&N 90 days to get in compliance by building a water treatment plant for the drainage from the pit. The plant wasn't finished by the August 4 deadline, and the coal company has asked for a three month extension.
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