SF continues hearing on proposed mining

Published Sep 26, 2013 at 4:07 pm (Updated Sep 26, 2013 at 4:07 pm)

After more than four hours of testimony, cross-examination and public comment regarding mining at the former Mayview State Hospital, the South Fayette Township Zoning Hearing Board voted to continue the Sept. 25 meeting until Oct. 2.

Aloe Brothers, LLC, owners of the property on Mayview Road, have requested a special exception to allow mining at the site of the former state hospital and are also challenging the validity of a section of the township’s zoning ordinance for B-1 (business) districts.

Aloe Brothers wants the ability to mine coal on about 37 acres of the property and plans on building a business park at the site in the future. Based upon sampling conducted at the site, it is estimated that there is about 330,000 tons of coal that could be mined on the property. The coal is part of the Pittsburgh Coal Seam.

On Feb. 27, the three-member zoning hearing board denied Aloe Brothers’ special request for mining.

At the Sept. 25 meeting, Aloe Brothers’ attorney, William Sittig argued coal mining is a “comparable use” to oil and gas exploration, which is permitted in the B-1 district. Sittig called South Fayette’s ordinance “irrational and discriminatory” and said the B-1 district is the only district in the township that does not permit incidental mineral removal.

Sittig called four witnesses to testify at the hearing and the witnesses were then cross-examined by South Fayette Township attorneys Jonathan Kamin and Jonathan Arminas. The witnesses called by Sittig included landscape architect Steven Victor, Andrew Swestyn, who works in the Marcellus shale gas industry, Sean Isgan, an engineer with coal mining experience and traffic engineer Michael Andrewsh.

Isgan said if approved, coal mining operations would take place daily with workers working two, 10-hour shifts either from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. or 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. The site would be lit at night, with the lights directed at the coal pit. He said blasting would occur on the site twice a week to “fracture the overburden” or the rock and soil over the coal.

Mining operations would take nearly three years and coal would be hauled from the site either by truck or by train. Isgan pointed out that it could take about 18 months to complete the mining application process.

If the coal were to be hauled out at 22 tons per truck, it would take about 15,000 loads over the three-year period to remove all of the coal. During the township’s cross-examination, Kamin asked Victor if the Mayview area could be developed without extracting the coal. Victor replied that it could.

“The applicant can build an office park there. There are a variety of uses in the B-1 zoning district,” Victor said.

Adam Rossi of Scott Township, who owns a business in South Fayette near the proposed mining site asked, “How much money are we talking about that’s in the ground?” He said that if prospective buyers knew “you could mine out millions of dollars in coal, there would have been more offers,” on the site. Aloe Brothers paid $505,000 for the property about two years ago.

Sittig replied that an expert in commodities would have to give the value of the coal and that it would depend on the market.

South Fayette resident Ed McClure, who lives along Boyce Road said, “If this is approved, it should be stated that it be shipped on the railroads and not ruin the roads.” He added, “We’ve got a lot of homes on Boyce Road and none of them want to see 50 trucks a day.”

Annette Shimer of Upper St. Clair’s Citizens for Land Stewardship said, “CLS urges no variance, no special exception and vote no on mineral removal.”

Kamin will present the township’s case on the application at the continued hearing at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 2 at the township building.

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