SWOYERSVILLE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — One of the nation’s top environmental officials was in Northeastern Pennsylvania on Monday, to talk about cleaning up what’s called ‘legacy pollution.’
The Secretary of the Interior, Deb Halland, toured several sites in our region and talked about reclaiming abandoned coal mine lands.
Secretary Haaland came to Swoyersville to talk about ridding this area of the well-known culm bank, which has overshadowed this community for generations and ridding communities of legacy pollution is a top priority of the Biden Administration.
“I’m happy to be back in Pennsylvania I think it’s my third trip here today to talk about the important work we’re doing to protect our communities, pursue environmental justice and clean up our land,” said Secretary Halland.
Land like the former Swoyersville mining area, which was once part of the Harry E. Coal Mining Operation that shut down in the mid-1970s.
A reclamation project was started several years ago as part of a public-private partnership. Secretary Haaland says money from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law can help speed the process. Not only in Swoyersville but at other mine scarred lands across the region.
Eyewitness News also spoke with residents who live close to culm bank.
“To me, it’s bittersweet, I’ll use that again,” said Swoyersville resident Chris Amico.
Amico lives in the shadow of the Swoyersviile culm bank as his family has owned this home for some 80 years. He only knows the landscape with coal waste outside his windows.
“My ancestors were coal miners once that’s gone I won’t remember any of my ancestors but it’s the sign of progress. It’s a sign of the times, opportunity; take advantage of some real estate to bring in some business to clean up the area a little bit,” said Amico.
John Wrhel has lived near the property for 60 years, his family has a history with the former coal mine site.
“I think that will help get it out of here sooner. I mean this thing has been an eyesore geez for 80 years. My grandfather used to run a coal tinder up there. He used to take the shale they used to dump it off up the mountain,” said Wrhel.
“There is no time to waste so we’ll just move forward and hopefully as was stated earlier this big heap of coal waste will be gone and in its place some green space for the kids to have,” said Secretary Halland.
Joining Haaland were U.S. Senator Bob Casey and Congressman Matt Cartwright as they agree that reclamation projects like this one in Swoyersville are long overdue and can only benefit future generations.
“This federal infrastructure bill provides new dollars that would not be possible any other way. So the existing programs are going to get a lot more help to help transition these communities into a place where you can have more jobs, more economic opportunity, more families moving in because we are dealing with some of the environmental legacy,” said Senator Bob Casey.
“We are going to have over a billion dollars coming to our area to clean up the mines and turn them into productive lands, green space parking retail and office places. There’s so much we can do with it, it’s a wonderful thing,” explained Representative Matt Cartwright.
The first phase of the project which began three years ago will cost about $8 million. It will be five million in private dollars and three million in federal dollars. It is still unclear how much additional federal money this project will receive as it did receive about $3 million in federal money several years ago, but It should be completed in five years.