Part 1 – 1/30/2005
Too Many Mines, Too Little Money
State Program Trying To Make Up for Lost Federal Contributions
Part 2 – 1/31/2005
Danger Lurks in Mines
Successful Reclamation Results are All Around
BY JESSICA D. MATTHEWS TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER 2/01/2005
A business park.
A housing development.
Throughout Lackawanna and Luzerne counties, properties once scarred by abandoned coal mines are being cleaned up and turned into viable projects despite limited federal funding.
A backlog of more than 9,400 abandoned mines nationwide vie for federal cleanup dollars. More than $8.6 billion is needed, with Pennsylvania needing more than half that amount. Almost $500 million is needed in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties alone.
“When the (Abandoned Mine Land) money goes where it should, we’re able to reclaim abandoned mine sites and attract economic development back to these sites,” said state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty.
In Lackawanna County, plans are under way to build 70 to 80 homes and a recreational area in North Scranton on a reclaimed culm dump, said Bernard McGurl, executive director of the Lackawanna River Corridor Association.
The first phase, regrading 24 of 60 acres, was recently completed, he said. It will take a couple of years before the entire project is done. It is estimated to cost more than $200,000.
“We’re hoping to get more (abandoned mine) reclamation funding,” he said. In addition to federal dollars, state and private money have funded the project, he said.
Other Lackawanna projects that sit on reclaimed abandoned mine sites include the Jessup Small Business Center and the Valley View Business Park, both on the same site in Jessup, Mr. McGurl said.
The site cost about $550,000 to reclaim.
“There are generational type projects,” he said. “These types of projects typically take 10 to 25 years to complete. It takes a lot of time, and additional costs, to physically get these sites regraded and replanted.”
Ultimately, these projects can result in new jobs and economic growth for communities, Mr. McGurl said.
In Jessup, cleaning up the 1,300 acres for the two projects included filling mine openings and dealing with mine runoff problems, said Karl Pfeiffenberger, project manager of the Scranton Lackawanna Industrial Building Co., the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce’s industrial development arm.
It cost an average of $180,000 an acre to clean up the site where the small business center sits, he said. If the land was resold, it would cost about $45,000 an acre.
For the Jessup projects, state and federal funding came from the U.S. Office of Surface Mining’s Abandoned Mine Land reclamation program, the state’s Bureau of Abandoned Mine Land and the state’s Growing Greener program. Additionally, the sites are designated Keystone Opportunity Expansion Zone, which provides tax breaks to companies that open shop there.
Two companies have already purchased some of the 132 acres at the center: Mericle Commercial Real Estate Services, of Wilkes-Barre, is developing a $5 million, 140,000-square-foot building; and Verus Partners, of Chicago, purchased 21 acres at the center for $1.26 million. The company plans to erect a 165,000-square-foot building, Mr. Pfeiffenberger said.
Both companies are looking to rent or resell the buildings.
The Valley View Business Park includes seven lots ranging from six to 104 acres. The lots will be available for office, light manufacturing and distribution facilities.
There is already a tenant in the business park — Tucker Rocky Distributing, which has a $4.5 million distribution center, he said. The company distributes motorcycle and all-terrain vehicle parts and equipment.
In Luzerne County, cleaned-up sites once scarred by coal companies include the Wachovia Arena and Highland Park, both in Wilkes-Barre Township.
“There are many success stories in Pennsylvania,” said Mrs. McGinty.
©Scranton Times Tribune 2005