A new company is taking over a surface mining operation in two counties.The state Department of Environmental Protection has transferred a 7,500-acre surface mining permit to BET Associates to mine, re-mine and reclaim numerous abandoned mine lands in Schuylkill and Carbon counties.The site spans Tamaqua and Coaldale in Schuylkill County, and Lansford, Summit Hill and Nesquehoning in Carbon County.
Doug Topkis, managing owner of BET Associates, said the company is in partnership with Robindale Energy Services, and is doing business as Lehigh Anthracite. The company has an office in the former Jamesway Shopping Center.
"We are interested in revitalizing the local economy and we have plans to have the site mined properly and safely," Topkis said.
BET Associates purchased the site from the former permit holder, Lehigh Coal & Navigation (LCN), through a bankruptcy sale last May, shortly after DEP suspended LCN's mining operations.
DEP issued 24 compliance orders to LCN between 2008 and 2010 for numerous water quality violations and for failing to reclaim the site. LCN had filed for bankruptcy in 2008.
As a condition of the permit, BET Associates will post bonds to cover the full cost of reclaiming the site and to treat the acid mine drainage.
The previous bonds LCN posted would have been insufficient to reclaim the site and the state would have been responsible for millions of dollars in remediation projects. The permit transfer relieves the state of the potential responsibility of reclaiming the site.
"The plan is to mine the coal, since there is plenty of anthracite coal, and at the same time fill up a lot of the holes for positive drainage. Right now it's porous land. Filling the holes will benefit the mine by having the water drain properly," Topkis said.
The new company will commit $24.5 million in reclamation bonds and funds to use for treating the site's acid mine drainage problem.
"We've been working to take care of the environmental problems that existed to make it safer for our working employees," Topkis said.
He explained that Robindale, of Indiana County, will be operating the heavy equipment and be in charge of operations of the newly formed company, Lehigh Anthracite. He believes, depending on the coal market, that new jobs will be created from it.
The company should have 50 employees working at the site this week, and could have as many as 80 employees by the end of the year, he said.
The market is strong for coal due to recent economic upswings in China and India, according to Topkis.
"Anthracite coke is used in the steel-making process and the price is lower, making it an attractive export," Topkis said. "I think it's a win-win for everyone. We've got a good plan and good people running it."
Topkis said Tamaqua officials appear to be very pleased the company will be mining coal again.
"We're very excited about working in the communities of all five boroughs. Tamaqua council has already offered support and it's encouraging," he said.
Tamaqua council members met with Topkis and came away feeling this is going to be a healthy coal-mining operation according to council President Micah Gursky.
"We are thrilled it will be a boost to the local economy and yes, we are very supportive and glad that a healthy, strong company is taking over the operation to mine coal here again and new jobs will be created for the area, " Gursky said.
Tamaqua has always been tied to coal mining operations in the past, he said.
"I feel very confident they are a good company and I think they are going to do a good job," Gursky said.
The site has been mined for a couple hundred years and is one of the oldest surface mining sites in the state and the largest landowner in the Tamaqua area. However, in recent years, LCN company had some problems that drew the attention of DEP.
Those problems stemmed from not paying taxes to local municipalities, at times being unable to pay employees, equipment breakdowns, non-compliance with environmental issues, unsafe working conditions and lack of funds for bonds to re-claim scarred land. In the most recent problem, about 7,000 gallons per minute of water contaminated by acid mine drainage flows through the site, which includes more than 800 acres of surface mine pits, according to DEP.