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LC&N mining future DEP: Permit process could take months

Published June 05. 2010 09:00AM

A Pa. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) official said mining is likely to resume on the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company site but not for several months.

The 8,000 acre complex of LC&N that stretches from Tamaqua to Jim Thorpe was sold on May 24 at a public sale to BET Associates IV, LLC. The purchase price is not available.

On the same day of the sale, the DEP basically shut down the operations of LC&N, banning all mining and sales because of LC&N failing to comply with mine reclamation and water treatment as ordered by the state agency.

DEP said its action had nothing to do with the sale, that it was coincidental. According to the agency, the action came because "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 site."

Tom Rathbun, spokes-man for the DEP, said BET Associates IV, which was one of the main debtors of LC&N, will likely apply for a transfer of the LC&N mining permit to resume mining operations.

One thing not affected by the DEP action against LC&N is the Springfield Pit in Coaldale where fly ash is being dumped in a previously approved mining reclamation project.

Rathbun explained that the mining permit can't be transferred until the sale closing has been completed.

After that, a 30-day advertising period occurs, followed by a 30-day public comment period.

BET Associates must also get a mining license, which basically gives the firm permission to mine in the state.

One more condition is that BET Associates post a reclamation bond for the property it plans to be working.

It is at this point that BET Associates IV "will take over environmental responsibilities for the site," Rathbun said.

Those environmental responsibilities include treatment of discharge in the vicinity of Route 309. Rathbun said the discharge "is not terribly acidic, but has high metals."

On-going site reclamation must occur once mining activity continues.

BET Associates will be required to post an additional bond for the entire disturbed area.

Rathbun explained why fly ash can continue to be dumped at the Springfield Pit. He said modern reclamation laws passed in 1977 requires that any surface mine have a bond in case any owner abandons it.

Springdale was one of the mines which couldn't be bonded because of its huge size. Enforcement action by the DEP could have resulted as a financial burden to taxpayers, he said.

In general, when the DEP regulations went into effect, coal companies said they couldn't afford the bonds.

Scott Roberts, a DEP mining official, proposed a compromise to coal companies - which applies to the LC&N site - requiring the reclamation bonding on the areas that are being disturbed.

Rathbun said the DEP is optimistic working with BET Associates IV, noting the lawyer for the firm is a former DEP attorney.

BET Associates had loaned LC&N $3.5 million in August 2009 so it could continue operating.

A year earlier, LC&N filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

In early April of this year, LC&N filed a motion in bankruptcy court authorizing sale as well as a request to approve bidding procedures.

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