Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company has issued a reponse to a shutdown notice from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Details of DEP's action against LC&N were detailed in a story in Tuesday's edition of The TIMES NEWS.
LC&N is disagreeing with findings in the DEP statement and is planning to appeal to the state Environmental Hearing Board.
The Tamaqua firm, headquartered in Pottsville, had its mining activities suspended in Carbon and Schuylkill counties by DEP due to "persistent illegal mining practices, repeated water quality violations, and an ongoing failure to reclaim lands, which is required to protect the public from unsafe mining sites."
The decision by DEP was to halt all mining activities and coal sales by LC&N, which was the recipient of 24 compliance orders by the agency since 2008, resulting in civil penalties of more of than $91,000, along with five, three-day permit suspensions.
The cash-strapped company, which has been working to reorganize in federal bankruptcy court for almost two years, has been cited twice this year for attempting to develop unpermitted and unbonded mine pits, in violation of state and federal laws.
On Wednesday, Caitlin Curran Hatch, chief executive officer for LC&N, issued the following press release responding to the DEP allegations.
"The Board of Directors of Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company ("Lehigh") disputes the Pa. Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP's) recitation of events surrounding tje suspension of Lehigh's mining permit issued by DEP," was the opening statement of the release.
"By Administrative Order dated May 7, 2010, the Department suspended Lehigh's Surface Mining Permit #54733020, effective 5 p.m., on May 24, 2010, subject to certain conditions set forth in the Order.
"Lehigh disagrees with many of the statements made by the DEP in its press release. The number of employees is not 40, it is 114. Much more importantly, no mining took place off permitted, bonded areas. The whole area is permitted – and all mining took place under an approved, bonded mining plan.
"What happened was a series of mistakes, and it can happen to any mining operation. The company exceeded the bonded pit volume – that is, it dug a hole a bit too big but within the permitted territory. The company rectified the problem and no violations exists today."
Hatch's release also addressed LCN's water concerns.
"The company has a legacy water issue on the property, caused not by it, but by years of historic mining. The most recent 'bad' test was the result of trying to keep up with a surge of water due to the snow melt from the record storm in February which was still on the ground at the time of a heavy rain in March. The company notified DEP that it had run out of treatment material unexpectedly early by trying to keep up with the extra flow and the supplier was not able to deliver another shipment early.
"The DEP took the test for manganese knowing it would exceed permit limits. The company was trying to comply and was unable due to unusual weather conditions. At no time was the company trying to avoid compliances."
As of Monday, LC&N had made a formal Notice of Appeal to the state Environmental Hearing Board, continued the news release.
"This Notice of Appeal is a matter of public record and Lehigh urges any interested party to review it in order to understand the issues involved and the position of Lehigh regarding this Order as well as the continued operation of the company.
"Lehigh is in compliance with the schedule for reduction of the bond deficiency and is in fact ahead of schedule. The bond deficiency cited in the suspension order is incorrect. The actual deficiency is $3.4 million. This amount has been reduced from $9 million in July, 2008.
The Administrative Order requires Lehigh to continue its reclamation obligations.
"Lehigh intends to continue to perform reclamation and to treat the mine water outflow at the Route 309 discharge point during the suspension. Lehigh is aware of its obligation to the public and wishes to fulfill all of its environmental responsibilities despite the economic road blocks created by DEP."
The release also mentions that LC&N is looking to fulfill its financial obligations as well.
"Although Lehigh has conducted an Auction in the pending Bankruptcy case, under which it agreed to sell its assets to the highest bidder, Lehigh remains hopeful it will be able to secure sufficient outside financing to permit it to satisfy the terms of its loan agreement, fund the environmental obligations and to reduce administrative expenses associated with a bankruptcy and to eventually emerge from the bamkruptcy.
"Lehigh offers its deepest thanks to its loyal employees, to the communities and to the many businesses that offered their support for this historic business," concluded the release.