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Braving the blast: Athens Township residents challenge mining proposal

Representatives from thePennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)
Isabela Weiss | WVIA News | Report for America
Representatives from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) hold a final public hearing on the proposed Minard Mine. A stenographer (left) records comments for the DEP to review after the hearing.

After a series of public hearings and lawsuits, Athens Township residents continue fighting a 360-acre mining project.

On Sept. 25, eleven residents testified before the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for the future of their native wildlife populations and waterways.

One resident, Kristine Litteer, argued that the Chemung River will become inhospitable to life if the DEP allows Bishop Brothers, the construction company, to run blasting operations at the proposed Minard Mine.

“Our rivers are going to become sludge pits,” said Litteer. “They’re not going to be able to be swam in, they’re not going to be able to be fished in, the beauty of them in of itself is going to be gone. It is going to take away all of the fish that the eagles, that the hawks, that other creatures eat.”

Three representatives from Big Horn Lenape Nation criticized the DEP, Bishop Brothers, and Athens Township for not protecting the environment for future generations. One of these elders, The Owl, The Hawk, The Eagle Sees, asked for companies like Bishop Brothers to work on finding a balance between financial gain and environmental stewardship.

“How many more mountains must we destroy to build high-rises,” asked The Owl, The Hawk, The Eagle Sees. “How much more air must we pollute…Mother Earth will kick us off of this earth…If we’re going to build something, let’s build an environment that’s healthy.”

The DEP did not respond to residents’ comments during the hearing. They said they plan to release a comment response document alongside their final decision on whether to approve the mine. However, that decision will likely take the DEP a long time to reach, according to Megan Lehman, DEP’s Regional Communications Manager for the Northcentral Region.

“There is a zoning issue that’s pending with the township, as well. For the project to be built, it does have to receive, of course, all relevant approvals that are necessary from multiple levels of government,” said Lehman.

That zoning issue comes in the form of two lawsuits filed against the township earlier this month. Both lawsuits question whether the township properly filed changes to a 2021 agreement with Bishop Brothers about what land could be used for the mine.

Isabela Weiss is a storyteller turned reporter from Athens, GA. She is WVIA News's Rural Government Reporter and a Report for America corps member. Weiss lives in Wilkes-Barre with her fabulous cats, Boo and Lorelai.

You can email Isabella at isabelaweiss@wvia.org