About 50 western Adams County residents asked the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Wednesday night to deny a pollution limits permit application submitted by Special Granules Inc. (SGI).

Eight of them spoke during the hearing, and were awarded applauded for their efforts.

“All eyes are on PA DEP to protect Pennsylvania’s cold water resources,” said Hazel Keahey, of Snyders Hollow Road, and member of the Friends of Toms Creek Board of Directors.

The comments were part of a public hearing arranged by DEP to take comments from citizens regarding the requested permit.

Toms Creek, which flows along the north side of the SGI mine property, is a state-designated High Value Cold Water Fishery, and some residents fear runoff from the mining operation could endanger the well-loved trout stream.

SGI mines the volcanic basalt of which the mountains west of Hamiltonban Township were formed. The company crushes and colors the mined basalt to make the grit that coats asphalt roof shingles. The grit material is shipped by truck and train to plants that make the shingles.

SGI Executive Director of Operations Matthew McClure mentioned the creek’s status in remarks that pointed out the mine, which employs about 150 workers, had been in operation since 1923, and specifically “in the Toms Creek watershed since the 1960s.”

“There have been no discharges from Pitt Pond (an engineered holding pond) to Toms Creek since 2011,” McClure said.

He did not explain the 2011 discharge, but noted there was no overflow into Toms Creek during a weekend rain storm in July 2019 that destroyed several roads in the area.

The permit the company seeks to renew has been in effect 25 years, he said. He noted two ponds on the Toms Creek side of the mountain designed to trap stormwater from a 100-year, 24-hour rain event. In addition, he said, if excessive water causes the pod levels to increase to dangerous levels, water can be, and has been, pumped into the lower level of the nearby mine.

Water is pumped from the holding areas to the grit mill, where much of it is used in the grit-making process. All remaining water is then pumped to three holding ponds where flocculent is added to precipitate sediment from the water before discharging into Miney Branch.

“What happens when the pump fails?” Keahey wanted to know.

Other citizens decried the potential results of climate warming, which has appeared in recent years as increasingly frequent and intense rain events.

DEP Technical Services Section Chief Rock Martin explained later the comments from the hearing will be considered as the agency tailors the permit to existing conditions.

“The comments often result in significant changes to the permit,” he said, noting “There is rarely flat out denial.”

Written comments will be accepted for two weeks by mail at Cambria Office, Bureau of District Mining Operations, 286 Industrial Park Road, Ebensburg, PA 15931.

Then “we shoot for 60 days” to publish a decision, Martin said.

If reviewing and adjusting the permit will go beyond the Sept. 7 expiration of the SGI permit, the existing permit will be extended, as written, while work continues on the renewal, “unless we expect to deny the permit,” he said.

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