Proposed Duryea plant would treat acid mine water

By Steve Mocarsky

July 5, 2013

Agencies that advocate for clean rivers are proposing the construction of a treatment plant in Duryea to address one of the single worst polluters of the North Branch of the Susquehanna River — acid mine water.

The Old Forge Borehole, located three miles upstream from the confluence of the Lackawanna and Susquehanna rivers, empties millions of gallons of acidic mine water into the Lackawanna River daily, which causes an orange sludge to form on the riverbed.

The state Department of Environmental Protection drilled numerous boreholes throughout the area over the years to allow mine water to drain from the vast network of underground mine shafts into a controlled area, rather than into people’s basements.

The Old Forge Borehole, drilled into the bed of the Lackawanna River adjacent to Union Street in Old Forge, is one of the largest, at 42 inches in diameter, said Bernie McGurl, executive director of the Lackawanna River Corridor Association.

As water flows through the mines, it picks up metals including iron oxide, which absorbs oxygen in the river, making it unsuitable for aquatic life, McGurl said.

The river corridor association has been collaborating with the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation for the last several years on a study to address the problem. Contaminants entering the rivers from the Old Forge Borehole and the Duryea Borehole account for about 25 percent of all the metal pollution entering the North Branch of the Susquehanna, the study has found.

The study recommends construction of a treatment plant that would remove much of the iron oxide.

McGurl envisions that a pipeline connected to the borehole would run along the river and to undeveloped land in Duryea zoned for industrial or mine use. Treated water would be returned to the river while the iron oxide that is removed could be sold to industries that use it for purposes such as dyeing concrete.

And the plan to remove iron oxide from the river water will do more than make the water healthier, McGurl said. Building a treatment plant could boost economic development, perhaps spurring the addition of other industries, business parks or even residential buildings, he said..

The agency heads plan to apply to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Authority for Act 13 funding, which comes from impact fees paid by natural gas drilling companies, to buy a tract of land suitable for building a treatment plant as well as for a feasibility study.

McGurl and Robert Hughes, executive director of the coalition, presented a plan summary to Luzerne County Council last week. County council is expected to vote Tuesday on a request for a resolution supporting the plan that the agencies can submit with their funding application.

McGurl and Hughes intend to present the plan to Duryea Borough Council, which also meets Tuesday.

Building a treatment plant can cost between $10 million and $20, McGurl said. Funding sources are yet to be determined, he said, and the main concern right now is obtaining funding to buy land and conduct a feasibility study.