CONYNGHAM TOWNSHIP — The company awarded $1 million by the state to “reengineer, reopen and redevelop” an anthracite coal surface mine hopes to be in full production at the site as soon as October.
Blaschak Coal Co. President and CEO Greg Driscoll said work to remove some one million cubic yards of overburden has been taking place since 2016 at the former stripping pit, and miners are close to exposing the “Mammoth vein” that is as much as 80 feet thick at places and will be mined for some 20 years.
The Mahanoy City-based Blaschak, which is owned by Milestone Partners Inc., a Radnor-based investment firm, is investing $13 million of its own money in the project.
Reopening of the former mine, located just north of Route 61 between Mount Carmel and Centralia, is part of the company’s effort to retain anthracite as a unique local resource with many different applications, he said.
“We see this project as a means of resurrecting, at least in part, the anthracite coal mining industry in this area,” said Driscoll. “Our vision is to cause anthracite coal to become an integral cog in the economic redevelopment of the coal region.”
Driscoll said what the company refers to as the Mount Carmel mine involved in the grant includes about 496 acres, but is part of a total area of 1,375 acres that includes Blaschak’s Centralia mining operation.
Work has wrapped up at the Centralia mine, which can be seen to the north of Route 61 between Mount Carmel and Centralia, and that area is being reclaimed.
The re-established mine, just over the ridge from the Centralia mine and not visible from Route 61, neighbors that property to the west. It had been a functioning mine worked by Mallard Contracting, owned by the Helfrick family, but mining ceased there because of the size and depth of the hole and the bonding that required, Driscoll said. Work began to fill in the pit.
Around 2016, with its Centralia mine site operation winding down, Blaschak approached Mallard about a possible lease and began investigating the potential of the Mount Carmel mine. Old maps were studied and some 50 to 60 holes were drilled to confirm how much coal was present and where.
Convinced it was worthwhile, Blaschak agreed to a 20-year lease with Mallard, Driscoll said.
Meanwhile, in 2017, it applied for the state grant.
Driscoll said planning is key for a project of this magnitude.
“We look at the USGS maps, along with aerial photography that shows up-cropping, and then we perform drilling operations in order to accurately estimate the actual depth of the vein in that area,” he said.
Some coal was actually already taken from the site as removal of overburden occurred in an effort to reach the Mammoth vein.
Applied for $4.5 million
The $1 million grant to Blaschak was approved through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP), a grant program administered by the Office of the Budget for the acquisition and construction of regional economic, cultural, civic, recreational and historical improvement projects. Applications are reviewed and awarded on their own merits and this project was determined to be good for the community by the Wolf administration, Lyndsay Kensinger, deputy press secretary in the governor’s communication office, said earlier this week.
Kensinger said awarding of the grant is not related in any way to federal policies that have favored a resurgence of the coal industry.
In applying for the grant, the state required a detailed description and analysis of the project site. Officials from the agency toured the area on July 3. Driscoll said Blaschak had actually applied for $4.5 million.
He said in awarding mining grants, the state looks at three primary areas: employment, regional community economic benefits and land reclamation.
“We were able to provide them with both short and long-term benefits for the community in each of these areas,” he said. “Short-term benefits are a combination of maintaining current employment and even creating additional jobs. As we develop and raise production, it will require an increase in our workforce level. Economic benefits are directly tied to employment benefits. It also makes the region viable or attractive as a place to come and live.
“The land reclamation, which is a long-term benefit,” he continued, “involves the complete restoration of the mined area to its natural look.”
$65,000 to $85,000 salaries
The mine is expected to employ 25 to 30 workers that are members of the United Mine Workers Association (UMWA). Pay is based upon an hourly wage scale and ranges from $65,000 to $85,000 per year depending upon the job classification and level of overtime.
“We also offer a good health care benefits package to our employees and are very proud of our workers,” he said.
Driscoll said he realizes coal is controversial, but said that applies more to the power generation side. Other exciting developments for anthracite are in non-power generation uses, and that’s exciting, Driscoll said. And mining is much more environmentally friendly than it once was, noting how filling in an old stripping pit when the coal is removed isn’t just about safety and aesthetics, but also reduces the likelihood of acid-mine drainage.
“When I look at what’s going on in anthracite right now,” he said, “we’re undoing a legacy of the past.”