Future Looks Brighter for Dunkard Creek

Washington PA Observer-Reporter
10 August 2015

Six years ago next month, toxins from an algae not common to Southwestern Pennsylvania killed fish, mussels, salamanders and other aquatic life along a 30-mile stretch of Dunkard Creek in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

The algae was later identified as golden algae, which state and federal environmental agencies investigating the kill described as an organism normally found only in southern coastal waters with high levels of salt and minerals.

The agencies agreed what created the conditions for the algae to thrive in Dunkard Creek were the very high levels of chlorides and other contaminants from mine water discharges at Consol Energy’s Blacksville No. 2 Mine.

Last week, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission reported it had reached a tentative settlement in a lawsuit it filed in West Virginia for damages it claims were caused by the mine’s polluted discharges.

Though Consol was named in the suit, the liability has been assumed by the Murray Energy Corp., which in December 2013 purchased Consol’s northern West Virginia mines.

Details of the agreement were withheld pending finalization of the settlement.

However, in stories published on the proposed agreement, John Arway, Fish and Boat Commission executive director, said any money that may be included in the settlement will be used to help further the recovery of the creek.

The creek is coming back, he said, and any money received through the settlement would be used to hasten its return.

As part of an earlier settlement for Clean Water Act violations with federal regulators, Consol also had agreed to pay a $5.5 million civil penalty and construct a water treatment plant to treat chlorides discharged from its mines in northern West Virginia, including Blacksville No. 2.

That treatment plant in Marion County, W.Va., went on line in 2013 and should help ensure another fish kill, at least from golden algae, won’t happen again. It also will help ensure any money invested in the creek won’t go to waste.

All of that should be good news to local fishermen, who once reported catching 40- and 50-inch muskellunge in the waters of Dunkard Creek before the September 2009 fish kill.