Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, at one time the mightiest corporation in the region, was essentially put out of business Monday by the Pa. Department of Environmental Protection.
The firm, headquartered in Pottsville, owns more than 8,000 acres sprawling from Tamaqua to Jim Thorpe.
A release issued by the DEP yesterday said:
"Persistent illegal mining practices, repeated water quality violations, and an ongoing failure to reclaim mined lands, which is required to protect the public from unsafe mining sites, have prompted the Department of Environmental Protection to suspend Lehigh Coal and Navigation's mining activities in Carbon and Schuylkill Counties."
The decision halts all mining activities and coal sales.
DEP said prior to this, it has issued 24 compliance orders against LC&N since 2008, resulting in civil penalties of more than $91,000, along with five three-day permit suspensions. The company has been cited twice this year for attempting to develop unpermitted and unbonded mine pits in violation of state and federal law.
The firm has been working to reorganize in federal bankruptcy court for nearly two years, with claims in the millions of dollars filed in the involuntary petition.
Several firms have attempted to purchase LC&N, but were rejected by the bankruptcy court. The latest rejection occurred Monday because of complications involving state tax provisions.
The suspension of LC&N operations isn't likely to harm the supply of coal to dealers.
Michael Radocha, owner of Peter J. Radocha & Sons Coal and Oil in Coaldale, said at one time LC&N was the top supplier of anthracite coal for local delivery, but not recently.
"They were selling more raw coal than prepared coal," he said.
Raw coal is sold to breakers to be converted into prepared coal – such as chestnut, pea, and other coal sizes.
Radocha said there are several breakers in the area and they will get their raw coal from other sources.
"I don't think it will affect the supply of coal," he said.
He added that it could affect other businesses, including a mini mart that's at the main entrance to the LC&N mining site in Coaldale.
LC&N has been in disputes with local and county taxing authorities over real estate taxes.
Efforts made this morning to contact LC&N were unsuccessful. A message left at the Pottsville corporate office was not returned. The Panther Valley number listed on the firm's website has been disconnected.
Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger said, "The current Lehigh Coal and Navigation management has shown a persistent unwillingness and inability to mine in accordance with state and federal law or address the reclamation and water treatment needs of this mine site. The department does not take this type of action lightly, but we cannot allow LC&N to continue to ignore the law and leave the bill for cleanup of this site to the taxpayers."
Hanger added that the permit suspension will remain in effect until the entire 8,000-acre site is brought into full compliance with conditions in the mining permit.
The DEP claims the site does not have a sufficient reclamation bond, which is required to cover the cost of reclaiming a site if the mine operator is unable or unwilling to complete reclamation.
Also, says the DEP, a large mine discharge from abandoned underground workings impacts water quality in the Little Schuylkill River.
Earlier this year, LC&N faced a foreclosure for failing to repay $5.5 million in mortgage debt – plus interest and other charges – to a Montgomery County firm.
At the time, LC&N owner James J. Curran remarked, "We're trying to get some money to finance our way out of bankruptcy."
LC&N at the time had 110 employees, Curran said.
The history of LC&N goes back to the late 1700s, starting with the Lehigh Coal Mining Company's formation in 1792, and the Lehigh Navigation Company's, founding in 1798. The Lehigh Navigation Company was formed for canal building.
The companies merged in the 1820s.
In 1919, LC&N was the sixth largest producer of anthracite coal, selling more than 4.7 million tons. That year, the firm had 7,121 miners. Employees at that time ranged in age from 12 to 75.
DEP said it has attempted to work with the current owner to continue mining while reclaiming the site and treating the discharge. However, the company has repeatedly failed to meet its obligations or maintain negotiated agreements.