PITTSTON – From basements along Mill Street, they were able to hear men working in the mines below.
Only 24 feet below ground, the Checkerboard Vein was one of three mines below Billy Williams’ home, at the corner of Mill and Searle streets. “I was told you could hear the clanking of their lunch pails,” he said.
Plagued by subsidence for decades, residents around Mill Street got some welcome news from the state Wednesday: A $2.2 million bid was awarded to fill in underground mines and help stabilize 58 acres.
The Department of Environmental Protection has awarded Minichi Inc. of Dupont two contracts totaling more than $3 million for work on an abandoned mine reclamation project in Pittston and a smaller one in Hanover Township, said DEP spokeswoman Colleen Connolly.
The $2,488,175 project in Pittston is designed to control mine subsidence by drilling 53 exploratory boreholes throughout the city and injecting flowable fill and cellular concrete into the holes.
One of those holes is planned for Williams’ yard.
There are 24 areas totaling 130 acres – 12 percent of Pittston’s entire land mass – that are susceptible to mine subsidence, according to a report issued in 2009 by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The agency’s Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation has investigated over 150 mine-related subsidence in this section of Pittston in the past decade.
Most subsidence cases are due to the voids left behind as a result of past underground mining of various coal seams. Williams said the Checkerboard Vein was 24 feet below, the Pittston Vein was 65 feet below and there was a third mine at 180 feet.
Mike Korb, manager of the bureau’s district office in Wilkes-Barre, said the work on this project should be completed in summer 2014.
“These collapses manifest themselves at the surface in any number of ways, from shallow depressions in lawns or roadways to openings in the ground of varying diameter and depth,” Korb said in a release.
The Mill Street area, bordered by Church, Butler, Hunter and Center streets, is the highest-risk to have additional mine cave-ins, a 2009 study said.
More work needed
Williams said the issue has been ongoing. He said a similar program was utilized in 1979 when silt and water were mixed and pumped into the mines, but recent test bores show the material may have washed away.
“I’m happy to see it come,” Williams said, noting the new announcement came just two days after the street was paved and the sewer project ended.
Pittston City Administrator Joe Moskovitz said the city welcomes the news the state will work on a problem that has been plaguing that neighborhood for decades.
But he said he’s cautious.
The state tried to help out the ongoing city sewer project in that neighborhood in 2011 with a $860,000 grant, Moskovitz said. Similar test bores were drilled with the intent to stabilize the area under the sewers. But, Moskovitz said, that stabilization effort failed.
“The issue is you’ll never return the environment to a pristine nature,” he said. “You don’t know what’s down there and there could be some unintended consequences once you get down there.”
Moskovitz said “tons and tons” of coal was hauled away in the heyday of King Coal and “you’re going to have some areas that are fragile.”
Hanover Township work
Connolly said work in the Lee Park Section of Hanover Township will involve drilling five new boreholes, similar to the ones in Pittston, near the intersection of the Sans Souci Parkway and St. Mary’s Road.
This site was part of a mitigation project constructed in the early 1970s to maintain mine water elevations, prevent flooding in the lowland areas of the valley and minimize subsidence in Nanticoke, Wilkes-Barre, Plains Township and the surrounding areas.
New work in Hanover Township totals $729,000 and should be completed by spring 2014, Connolly said.
She said two boreholes – one on Dundee Road near Nanticoke and one near Solomon Creek in South Wilkes-Barre – that collapsed in 2007 will also be filled in.
State Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, said both projects are funded by the state’s Abandoned Mine Reclamation Trust Fund, which is supported by a fee on the modern coal industry.
“Abandoned mine reclamation projects are crucially important not only for the environment, but also to the safety of our residents,” Yudichak said in a release. “Both of these projects will help prevent current problems from becoming future disasters.”