Windber officials: Mining runoff could worsen river channel problems

·3 min read

Jan. 27—WINDBER — Windber Borough officials have been working for years to obtain the estimated $500,000 it'll take to improve the borough's aging flood control system.

On top of their list of priorities is removing the 2,500-ton island of sediment that has built up in a river channel.

Now, Windber Mayor Mike Thomas said that borough officials are concerned that the problems with the system will only get worse, with plans for a strip mine upstream calling for deforesting dozens of acres of land and releasing treated stormwater into the creek that flows into the channel.

"Paint Creek runs right through Windber," Thomas said, "and when you're talking about deforesting the side of a mountain ... it's going to impact the situation."

As is, the basin between 17th and 19th streets is already "half-filled" with sediment, knotweed and young trees, he said. That has reduced the channel's capacity to handle increased flows when storms cause Paint Creek and its tributaries to swell, Thomas added.

Too often, stormwater overflows into surrounding neighborhoods, backs up storm drains and floods into basements — sometimes destroying furnaces, water heaters and other property.

The borough has applied for both state and federal funds to improve the channel over the past three years, with no luck.

"It's already a big problem," said Ron Allison, borough manager.

Allison said he's reached out to the state Department of Environmental Protection with concerns about the project. Borough officials are anticipating additional dialogue.

Officials with Rosebud Mining, the company seeking to develop the upstream strip mine, told The Tribune-Democrat earlier this month that the state would require them to collect and "un-muddy" all stormwater that runs over the area being mined. That water would have to be treated to DEP standards before it could be released into Paint Creek tributaries.

Thomas said he isn't against mining — or the good jobs it creates.

"We've worked pretty well with Rosebud for several years now, but our people are concerned about this," he said.

Thomas also lives alongside the flood-prone corridor. He said the project itself wouldn't be a problem if the flood channel was able to operate as it was designed.

Efforts to reach DEP officials for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful. A message to DEP communications personnel was not returned.

Thomas said the borough is also trying to get more information about Rosebud's plans to set off controlled blasts to remove coal from the hillside above Centennial Drive.

While plans indicate that that activity could only occur more than a mile east of Windber Recreation Park, Thomas said borough residents have expressed concerns about what blasting could do to the borough's swimming pool.

State Department of Health officials have said any approved blasting — if Rosebud secures its permit — would be designed to impact the area within that permitted zone. In the rare case of damage extending beyond those borders, the company would be responsible for covering repair costs.