Plug Pulled on Plans for Drainage Plant

NRCS shifts money to another state project

Morgantown Dominion Post
14 August 2012
By David Beard

CHARLESTON — A plan to build an acid mine drainage treatment plant for Richard Mine on Deckers Creek has been set aside, according to Friends of Deckers Creek and the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

NRCS said Monday it has reallocated $2.9 million of federal Small Watershed Program money intended to construct the plant to another project.

“There are no easy solutions to the Richard Mine problem,” said Kevin Wickey, NRCS state conservationist, in an emailed statement. “With no local sponsor, partial funding, and no way to complete the project, NRCS reallocated the available funding to another West Virginia project that could be completed within the legal and practical limitations of Public Law 83-566,” the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act.

Martin Christ, water remediation director for Friends of Deckers Creek (FODC), said in a release, “This is a tragedy. If the Richard Mine acid mine drainage is not treated, Morgantown and Morgan District of Monongalia County will always have a polluted corridor.”

Wickey and another NRCS expert familiar with the project were unavailable for further questioning. Christ said the city of Morgantown had been willing to serve as local sponsor, but NRCS deemed a proposed arrangement incompatible with the Watershed Act.

The Small Watershed Program, FODC said, does not allow NRCS to operate and maintain water improvement projects. NRCS must have a project agreement with a local partner — a government entity of some kind — that would agree to operate and maintain any project.

FODC said the abandoned Richard Mine discharges into Deckers Creek about two miles upstream from Morgantown city limits. Deckers Creek is almost always clean upstream from the mine, but is frequently red with precipitating iron and violates standards for iron concentrations in the Morgantown area. Fish are abundant above the mine, but not below.

The NRCS Deckers Creek reclamation project included the Richard Mine and 12 other mine projects. NRCS completed projects at six sites, and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) completed projects on four sites. Of the remaining three, the Richard Mine is the only major source of acid mine drainage.

NRCS previously said it had about $2.9 million to build a Richard Mine treatment facility, but no money for design. And the $2.9 million wouldn’t be enough to build a facility. If design funding came along and they got a design, they would have a better handle on construction costs.

If the facility would be built, the DEP had committed to provide 80 percent of the operation and maintenance funds for 20 years. Morgantown, as the sponsoring local organization, pledged to work together with the NRCS to secure sponsorship for the site and the remaining 20 percent of the operations and maintenance funds — a goodfaith commitment with no financial pledge.

City Manager Terrence Moore said the city and the Morgantown Utility Board made themselves available to assist in pursuing the project. There were several challenges. For instance, the mine is outside the city; but its pollution problem merits the interest of the entire Morgantown area.

There were other challenges, Moore said: Permitting; costs 20 years down the road, which by law a current council may not oblige a later council to pay, with regard to infrastructure and management costs of that magnitude; and a $2 million match to the federal funds, for which a source hasn’t been identified.

“It was a precarious situation in a number of respects,” Moore said. One idea floated, which the NRCS rejected, was allowing FODC to own the treatment plant.

NRCS said the Watershed Act precludes that because a government entity has to be the local sponsor.

Responding to the collapse of the plan, Christ said he believes the sponsorship issue could be solved with a little more negotiation, because the city of Morgantown satisfies all the criteria in the law for a local sponsor.

Not so, Wickey said. “There is a difference between being flexible and breaking the law. The Small Watershed Act, not NRCS, sets requirements for eligible local sponsors and their roles. I regret that NRCS was not able to be part of the solution for the Richard Mine site. We have every reason for wanting a successful outcome for this project.”

Christ said, “The NRCS money was the anchor that brought in the other resources, including the commitment by WVDEP and the willingness of the city of Morgantown to finish the job. Without the NRCS money, we do not see a way to make Deckers Creek fishable, swimmable, and economically productive.”

He told The Dominion Post, “We’re watching. We’re not going to give up.”

Moore said, “Hopefully the federal government will continue to offer some level of attention” to resolving the Richard Mine situation.