A Suggestion with Merit

Washington PA Observer Reporter - Editorial
3 February 2013

It’s been more than seven years since Ryerson Station State Park’s 62-acre Duke Lake was drained after inspections by the state Department of Environmental Protection and the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources revealed expanding cracks in the 45-year-old concrete dam.

Since then, the DCNR filed a claim against Consol Energy suggesting the damage was caused by the company’s Bailey Mine, which was engaged in longwall mining near the park.

The state Department of Environmental Protection, which investigated the claim, determined the damage was caused by mining and ordered Consol to restore the dam, and, not surprisingly, Consol, which denied its activities caused the damage, appealed DEP’s decision to the state Environmental Hearing Board, where the case is scheduled for trial in May.

The last thing anyone wants to see is this contentious and protracted issue becoming ever more mired in a legal morass.

What gives us hope this will not occur were comments made Jan. 26 at a public meeting at Waynesburg University held by attorney Thomas Rutter, a mediator hired to negotiate a settlement in the litigation.

More than 40 people spoke about the importance of the lake to area residents and the need for it to be restored. It was encouraging that many of those who spoke did not use the forum to castigate Consol but to tell the mediator how important the lake is to the community and to area residents and that it should be restored no matter who is at fault.

One speaker’s comments seemed to capture the tenor of the daylong hearing. Greene County Commissioner Blair Zimmerman said, “That was a destination for us as a family,” and that he frequently took his children to the park. The lake’s restoration is long overdue, Zimmerman said. “It’s our park and we want it back the way it was.”

The Rev. Donald Wilson shared a similar sentiment but was more pointed in his remarks. He said, “Too often, Greene County has been viewed as a forgotten area, neglected, overlooked, unimportant,” he said. “The way the dam sits now, that’s precisely what it says.” Restoring the lake will help restore pride; people will say ‘This is our area and we’re proud of it, we’re happy to be here.’”

It’s easy to understand the community’s desire to see the dam restored, but a different perspective came to light when Jim Goroncy, a Consol miner, spoke. He said everyone wants the lake to be restored for the recreational opportunities it offers the community. But he also asked where the county would be without the coal and natural gas industries, which provide jobs, a tax base and business for local stores.

We would guess these were the types of comments Rutter wanted to hear, especially if he anticipates heading off lengthy and expensive litigation.

He explained his thinking: having Consol pay the full costs of replacing the dam and, in return, they would be allowed to drill for Marcellus Shale gas, not in the park, but from property the company owns adjacent to park property.

The company also would donate property it now owns adjacent to the park, about 560 acres, to the state to increase the total park acreage, he said.

We think Rutter’s suggestion has a great deal of merit, yet we also don’t think Consol will go quietly. Perhaps Rutter’s carrot might be just what the coal company was waiting for. But if Consol holds to its position that “we don’t believe (the damage was) mine related,” then don’t expect to see bulldozers at Ryerson Station State Park anytime soon.