A New Ringgold coal company was denied a variance to the Schuylkill County Zoning Ordinance by the Schuylkill County Zoning Hearing Board to strip mine on a mountain in the borough of Palo Alto, a small community located east of Pottsville, in a decision handed down at board's monthly meeting held Thursday evening at the courthouse in Pottsville.

The application for permission to mine was made by E.O.J. Inc., whose business address is 2401 Summer Valely Road. The application was opposed by a majority of resident's of the small borough with about 20 present at the meeting and applauded the decision. The area is zoned under the county zoning ordinance as CR (Conservation Residential) and R-3 (Residential, Multi Family) districts.

The decision was by a 2 to 0 vote. The third member of the board, who sat in on the hearings held in December, William Zimmerman, who also was the chairman of the board, could not vote on the matter because he was not reappointed to the board by the Schuylkill County commissioners when his term expired Dec. 31. The board reorganized before handing down its ruling with Eric Seitzinger, of Orwigsburg, seated to replace Zimmerman.

The board elected Kim Eckert, of Auburn, as the new chairperson. Seitzinger did not participate in the vote. Michael Chikersky is the third member of the board. The board reappointed Attorney Christopher Hobbs as its solicitor.

The property which EOJ sought to mine was acquired from Joseph and Elizabeth Zaprazny in October 2009. Joseph Zaprazny is president of the mining company. The original request was to conduct strip mining operations for the length of the property, about 5,000 feet, and for the width of 300 feet.

After presenting its case and hearing concerns from a large group of borough residents the applicant reduced the scope of the variance to completely eliminate the request to mine any part of the parcel and to limit it to 12.9 acres. This would allow for mining operations on the premises about 2,500 feet with the same 300 feet width. In the past the area was the site of small mining operations but now consists of a heavily wooded, slightly sloped hillside that contains minor depressions.

At the hearings the mine owners claimed the premises were pock-marked with holes and heavily scarrred from years past mining operations. The residents opposing the operation claimed the premises have evolved into a naturally beautiful area of land that contains wildlife and pleasant backdrop for the citizens of the borough and that the area can be utilized for low-density residential development which the owners disputed.

The residents also expressed concern that independent haulers would be traveling over borough streets to reach the mine area and creat dust and dirt in transporting the raw coal and stripping would convert the mountain into a barren land and bring heavy equipment and stripping operations closer to the homes.

The application the board ruled that it is clear that if the strip mining operations were authorized the essential character of the neighborhood or district in which the premises is located will be substantially or permanently impaired and will be detrimental to the public welfare and for that reason was denying the application.

The board also commented while it finds that the award of any variance for this project is not justified, a variance of 1,000 feet would be the leadt modificatin possible of the regulation in issue and should the board's decision be challenged or overturned, 1,000 feet would be the minimum variance that would afford relief. Attorney Lloyd R. Hampton, representing the mine company, said he had to first speak to his client on what course of action to take if any.