Schuylkill County has more publicly-funded mine drainage treatment facilities than any other county in Pennsylvania.
That includes more than half of the facilities in the anthracite mining district, with a number of them in the eastern end of Schuylkill County.
The Schuylkill County Conservation District (SCCD) has been involved in developing partnerships with watershed groups, coal operators, government agencies and engineers to design, build, operate and maintain these sites.
The Pa. Anthracite Section of the Society of Mining Metallurgy and Exploration (PASME), the conversation district, the Schuylkill Headwaters Association and the Pa. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation, Pottsville District Mining Office, hosted a field trip Thursday of several of those facilities.
The facilities in question are located between the boroughs of Middleport and Tamaqua and included the Mary D mine and Bell Colliery, as well as the Reevesdale and Newkirk Tunnels.
Following the field trip, the PASME Anthracite Section hosted a meeting at DiMaggio's LaDolce Casa in Tamaqua, where Wayne Lehman of the conservation district and Bill Reichert of the Schuylkill Headwaters Association gave a presentation on some of the lessons they have learned in treating mine drainage through their experiences.
The Schuylkill Conservation District, created in 1955, serves all of the watersheds in the county with the mission to protect, enhance, restore and promote the responsible use of the county's natural resources for future generations.
The Schuylkill Headwaters Association, Inc. (SHA) has worked since 1997 to promote the environmental integrity of the Schuylkill River, its tributaries and its watershed within the boundaries of the county.
The watershed, which is a subbasin of the Delaware River Basin, has three main arteries: the west and main branches of the Schuylkill River, and the Little Schuylkill River, which flows through Tamaqua. All three of these branches have been impacted by abandoned mine drainage.
Guides for the PASME fall field tour were John Magula and Todd Wood of DEP's Wilkes-Barre BAMR, and Dan Koury, of DEP Pottsville District Mining Office.
The field trip began with the participants meeting at the Mary D Recreation Area, between the villages of Mary D and Tuscarora in Schuylkill Township. The recreation area was actually developed through a partnership between watershed and mine reclamation groups.
That plan included the relocation of the former Mary D ball fields, which is where a passive mine discharge treatment facility in now located, to land donated by the Blaschak Coal Company.
In December of last year, representatives of the more than 20 partners engaged in the project gathered to celebrate the start of the Mary D multipurpose mine reclamation project.
Those partners included SHA, the conservation district, Delaware River Basin Commission, Eastern Schuylkill Recreation Commission (ESRC), the Schuylkill County Commissioners, Schuylkill Township, Mary D Fire Company, Mary D Baseball Association, Enterprising Environmental Solutions, URS Corp., the Exelon Schuylkill River Restoration Fund, William Penn Foundation, DEP, the Pa. Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and Stell Environmental Enterprises, Inc.
The tour then commenced to the Mary D Mine, which has a seepage and air shaft discharge on the upper Schuylkill River near Brockton. The reclamation project is part of the three-phase plan for the Mary D area and involved enlarging and creating a 2.5 acre wetland to passively treat the Mary D Overflow Discharge.
From there the group moved across Route 209 from Mary D to the Bell Colliery, which is on the upper main stem of the Schuylkill River with a low pH discharge and elevated iron levels. The treatment system was constructed in 2003, with phase II constructed in 2007.
Reichert noted the Bell Colliery system, known as a vertical flow system in which flow is split between two cells and then flows downward through the substrate and is discharged through a stand pipe from the base of the system, has been successful in allowing the habitat in that area to be revitalized as well.
The tour moved to Reevedale and Newkirk, which are part of the Wabash Creek watershed, approximately five square miles in area and includes Tamaqua as well as the two nearby Schuylkill County villages.
The Reevesdale No. 22 discharge is located outside that village and exits from a collapsed mine tunnel, while discharge #1 is located across the highway. An oxic limestone drain system was installed at Reevesdale's south dip tunnel to treat approximately 900 gallons per minute of abandoned mine drainage that would have otherwise flowed into the Wabash Creek.
The Newkirk Tunnel, located across Route 209 near Tamaqua, involved the installation of an oxic limestone treatment system and a bat gate at the entrance to the tunnel. ESRC received a grant for the construction of the system in 1999, and a passive recreation area is maintained as a historic site there.
During the following presentation at La Dolce Casa, Lehman advised the importance of knowing property owners before commencing on any mine reclamation project. He noted the Bell Colliery, for one, had four different land owners, and that ownerships can change very quickly.
"You have to have a good relationship if you are going to get the project done," said Lehman.
Lehman also said that it is crucial that each group involved in a mine treatment project review the plans in order to ensure that the scope of the project is properly addressed.
"Make sure as many eyes look at them as possible," stressed Lehman. "That's where partnerships come in. You want to make sure what's being called for makes sense and is included."
Lehman discussed a number of mine reclamation projects, including the Tracy Airhole along Route 125, the Audenreid Treatment System, and Pine Forest, which is another oxic limestone drain system.
Lehman noted that a lot of these systems need to be adjusted once they are installed to maximize their impact. He added that the landscape can play an important role in the design as well.
"Sometimes nature just works better than anything we can design," he stated.