DEP To Receive National Award For Lackawanna County Coal Refuse Fire Project
The Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation will receive the 2015 Excellence in Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Appalachian Regional Award from the U.S. Department of Interior Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement for its work on the Simpson Northeast Coal Refuse Fire in Fell Township, Lackawanna County in 2014.
The award will be presented at the National Association of Abandoned Mine Land Programs Annual Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico on September 28.
(Photo: Top: Quenching and excavating fire area. Bottom: After reclamation.)
This is the ninth year of the last ten that a Pennsylvania project has won the Appalachian Regional or National AML Reclamation Award. The project was developed, designed, and supervised during construction by the staff from BAMR’s Wilkes-Barre Office.
“This award is not only an honor, but a reflection of the time and energy expended by the BAMR Wilkes-Barre staff and the contractor to design and construct the project,” said John Stefanko, DEP Deputy Secretary of Active and Abandoned Mine Operations. “Work was completed with long hours during one of the coldest winters in the region, which shows the dedication of DEP staff and the contractor to make sure this environmental hazard was eliminated.”
In early 2014, BAMR awarded a contract to Minichi Inc., Dupont PA, who excavated and extinguished the coal refuse bank fire on abandoned mine lands 20 miles north of Scranton, PA.
The scope of the project was to eliminate an imminent public safety hazard by extinguishing the fire, which was within one half-mile of the nearest home. Residents as far as 10 miles away complained of smoke and odor. The area is easily accessible via dirt roads and foot trails.
There are many indications such as tire tracks, garbage, and even YouTube video that people were trespassing in the area. Several brush fires in the proximity had been extinguished by the local volunteer fire company in the past couple years, and the fire may have been ignited by ATV riders burning tires on the spoil bank.
The project involved obtaining environmental clearances, establishing a water supply, establishing erosion and sedimentation (E&S) controls, excavating and quenching the burning refuse.
Upon completion of the quenching of the fire, the disturbed areas were cleaned up, re-graded, seeded, and the equipment demobilized. Shortly after excavation of the refuse pile commenced, it was apparent the fire was much larger than anyone anticipated.
Completed on May 28, 2014, it took nearly four months of continuous work to finally extinguish the fire, at an ultimate cost of $2,213,477.80.
The fire was located within a large bank approximately 1,200 feet east of Jefferson Street in Fell Township, about a quarter of a mile from the Lackawanna River.
The history of the site stretches back more than a century, starting when refuse had been deposited from the Simpson Colliery and Northwest Coal Company Breaker, which had been operated by several companies on the site between 1885 and 1964.
The majority of material came from deep mining, but some strip mining was performed in the 1950s and early 1960s.
The award “recognizes an exemplary reclamation project that emphasizes the elimination of dangerous health, safety, and environmental problems resulting from abandoned mine lands within OSMRE’s Appalachian Region.”
“This project is a great example of the good work accomplished by Pennsylvania’s abandoned mine land reclamation program. That work - reclaiming hazardous abandoned mines, restoring lands and waters affected by legacy mining, and working with partners - helps our communities by creating jobs, usable land, restored waters, and an environment free from hazards,” says Stefanko.
To learn more on this project call the Northeast Regional Office at 570-826-2511 and for more information on mine reclamation generally in Pennsylvania, visit DEP’s Abandoned Mine Reclamation webpage.
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