Mediator Holds Meeting on Ryerson
Washington PA Observer Reporter
26 January 2013
By Bob Niedbala, Staff Writer
WAYNESBURG – They spoke of their memories of boating and fishing
at Ryerson Station State Park and of the importance of the park,
not only in terms of recreational opportunities but also in terms
of its impact on the local economy, and all agreed the park lake,
drained more than seven years ago, should be restored as soon as
More than 40 people spoke at a public meeting Saturday at
Waynesburg University held by attorney Thomas Rutter, a mediator
hired to negotiate a settlement in litigation regarding the
destruction of the dam that created the park’s 62-acre Duke Lake.
Those who addressed Rutter, including a number of employees of
Consol Energy, whose mining has been blamed for the dam’s demise,
spoke about the importance of the lake to area residents and the
need for it to be restored.
“That was a destination for us as a family,” county Commissioner
Blair Zimmerman said, speaking as an individual. He said he
frequently took his children to the park.
“It was a good place to picnic and a good place to go out on the
lake to fish,” he said. Zimmerman recalled that when he coached
track at Waynesburg University, he also would take his athletes to
Ryerson “and they fell in love with the place.”
The lake’s restoration is long overdue, Zimmerman said. “It’s our
park and we want it back the way it was.”
The park is important for recreation, but also for the local
economy, attracting tourists, fishermen, hikers and hunters to the
area, said the Rev. Donald Wilson.
Restoring the lake will help restore a sense of pride and dignity
to the area, 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.”
Jim Goroncy, a Consol miner, said everyone wants the lake to be
restored for the recreational opportunities it offers the
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.
Goroncy said coal and gas companies must do their jobs in a safe
and responsible manner, and he believes Consol does that. He said
he supports the resolution of the case and restoration of the lake
in a manner “equitable” to all parties involved.
Expanding cracks in the 45-year-old concrete dam forced the state
Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in July 2005 to
drain the lake and remove part of the dam.
DCNR subsequently filed a claim against Consol suggesting the
damage was caused by the company’s Bailey Mine, which was 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.
Consol, which denies its activities caused the damage, appealed
DEP’s decision to the state Environmental Hearing Board, where the
case is scheduled for trial in May.
Rutter said it was important to him in agreeing to mediate the
case to come to Greene County to hear from the people what they
want in regards to Ryerson.
Though mediation is normally confidential, he said, he was
authorized by the parties to offer a few of his own thoughts,
“trial balloons,” to resolve the dispute. He emphasized the plan
he mentioned has not been approved by parties to the case.
He said his thought is to have Consol pay the full costs of
replacing the dam and in return 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.
Rutter said he believes all parties want to see the dam rebuilt.
“One of the key and major considerations is that the dam be
replaced at no costs or expense to the taxpayers, but rather at
the cost of the coal company,” he said.
Consol, however, claims it has done nothing wrong and it has
experts to say its mining activities were not responsible for the
damage, Rutter said.
DCNR has experts, too, who say the company’s activities caused the
damage. But remember, Rutter said, the state could lose the case
and the company will pay nothing to restore the lake.
Mediation always requires “give and take,” Rutter said. If the
parties can’t settle, litigation will continue. “I figure if it
goes down the whole litigation route, I will be lucky if I’m in a
nursing home when the case is finally decided,” he said. If not
lucky, he said, “I’ll be looking at the scene from the walls of a
In addition to hearing from more than 40 speakers, Rutter said he
had received about 140 letters, all endorsing the restoration of