ATHENS, Pa. (WETM) — In a meeting hosted by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection on Monday, heavy opposition came from residents of The Valley who voiced their concerns about a mining project planned to the southwest along the Chemung River.
In the meeting held at the Athens High School Auditorium on Monday, July 31, the discussion went on for nearly four hours as around 125 people were in attendance to oppose or support the Minard Mining Project.
The project, proposed by Bishop Brothers Construction, will take 360 acres of farmland and forested areas in Athens Township across the Chemung River and turn them into dredging zones for sand and gravel, along with a hard rock sandstone quarry.
The proposal is currently pending permit review by the DEP, after a two-year hiatus, to decide if the proper measures and regulations will be put in place before being allowed to mine.
At the meeting on Monday, a team of specialists from the DEP and representatives from Bishop Brothers Construction answered concerns from the public, while also overviewing the project and explaining the steps to the residents.
Bishop Brothers presented a slide show of all the different environmental impacts the project is expected to have, and the steps they plan to follow to prevent damage to the surrounding area.
The presentation went over the ways they plan to contain the sediments from going into the Chemung River by implementing filtration systems for the dredged water and showing how there are no plans to discharge water into the river directly, but instead hold it on-site or have it directed to the nearby Tutelow Creek.
The explosives used to blast away the side of the mountain and the dust produced from the blasts were a heavy topic for numerous residents who went up to speak at the microphone.
The team from the DEP told residents that the dust caused by the blasts, excavation, processing, and/or haulage could not leave the permit boundary. Mitigation techniques would be put in place by Bishop Brothers Construction to make sure that trucks maintain low speeds on haul roads and no dirt is brought out onto public roads, along with other mitigation tactics.
With the explosives that would be conducted to take away parts of the mountain, Mike Danahew, a blasting inspector for the DEP, said the blasts will be controlled and not exceed 133 decibels.
“133 decibels uhm, that distance from the mine site from here (Athens High School) even 1000 feet, at what I want to say, 1000 feet you’d be lucky if it even picks up on the seismograph,” Donahew said.
That answer didn’t please the residents as the question still remained if you’d be able to hear the explosions from town, or if the dust from the blast would actually be contained in order to prevent health problems.
“You’re talking about exposing our children to silicosis exposure, chronically for 13 years of their lives nine months out of every year, and if that’s not irresponsible I don’t know what is,” said JC Christiansen, a retired machinist and nearby resident to the property. “The silica that is going to be blowing out of that area, and it’s not the big dirty grey stuff or brown stuff, it’s the small stuff you can’t see that gets in the lungs, gets into the cells of the lungs and causes the disease,” he said, “so I invite you all to go lookup silicosis, and then ask yourself if you want your children to go to this school,” Christiansen said.
According to the American Lung Association, silicosis is caused by breathing in tiny bits of silica, a mineral found in a variety of rocks and soil, with exposure over time causing permanent lung scarring.
From health impacts to economic ones, residents questioned if the project would lower the local housing market, dropping housing prices because of a mining project outside of the resident’s control, but the question was left unanswered as the meeting was only with the DEP and the construction company.
Not everyone in attendance was against the construction of the mine, Brady Liechty a local business owner, Athens Township landowner, and Athens High School teacher gave praise to Bishop Brothers and supports local companies.
“l wanted to offer support for them and their management of handling things in the proper way because we deal with government agencies with our business and you have to follow a process and trust the process, and I just wanted people to understand that this management team will do the right thing,” Liechty said when talking about the project and the Bishop Brothers.
Liechty was just one of a handful of residents who were there in support of the project, and the only one there who spoke at the microphone in support, with an overwhelming majority of the 125 people there being against it.
No resolution on the project was given during the meeting but was just a way for the public to address their concerns or support of the project to the DEP as it continues its review of the project.
The public was advised that they have until Aug. 25 to give the DEP any other written comments, concerns, or other information about the project before making a decision.
At the local level, Athens Township will be holding a planning commission meeting on Aug. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Athens Township Building.