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Antis rejects bid, will seek grant to remove boney pile

Funds could also help develop trail from Bellwood to Juniata

Antis Township supervisors rejected the single bid they received recently to remove a boney pile on land that could become part of a proposed trail from Bellwood to Juniata.

Instead, supervisors applied for state help that could include payment of all costs and handling of administration involved in removing the pile and developing the trail.

The odds are favorable for obtaining the Abandoned Mine Land Pilot Program assistance, according to Supervisors Chairman Bob Smith.

The township may apply for

$2 million or $3 million from the program, based on preliminary discussions with DEP, according to a memo to the supervisors from Township Manager Lucas Martsolf.

That would mean that a contractor would take away the currently wooded skinny ridge of ash and coal between the Norfolk Southern mainline and Kerbaugh Road south of Bellwood, leaving a graded 21-acre field suitable for recreation, along with a developed trail between Becker Road near Bellwood and Lower Riggles Gap Road, near the Logan Township sewer plant, according to Martsolf.

The construction of the trail itself, including stormwater facilities and crushed stone surface, would be worth an estimated $800,000, according to Martsolf.

The project would be similar to one in the South Fork area that the AML Pilot Program is funding for the Cambria County Conservation and Recreation Authority — a project that has gone smoothly, according to the memo.

The department plans to announce funding awards in December or January, according to the memo. The program requires no local match.

At the DEP’s request, other state agencies could join it in helping fund the project, according to the memo.

“The DEP is giving us really good vibes,” Martsolf said.

“The PADEP has toured the site multiple times and is encouraged by the simplicity of the project, because we own the properties,” Martsolf stated in the memo.

Initially, upon discovering that the skinny ridge was composed of boney coal, township officials hoped it would attract bids from co-gen operators willing to offer enough money for the coal to fund trail construction.

But the request for bids was “a financial flop,” Smith said.

Robindale Energy, which operates co-gen plants in Ebensburg and Seward, offered to pay 50 cents a ton, but only for the small portion of the boney pile with a BTU level that made it worth transporting and burning — a portion that would have earned the township a mere $33,000, Smith said.

The company would have charged the township to remove the rest of the pile, with those charges based on the varying BTU values of the material, Martsolf said.

The DEP initiated discussions with the township about AML grant opportunity, after learning about the plan to bid out the boney pile removal, Martsolf said.

Robindale actually suggested the AML program in its bid, Smith said.

The AML Pilot Program was authorized by Congress under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, which provided $30 million each to the AML programs of Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, which have the highest numbers of high-priority abandoned mine land sites, according to a program website. The funds are to be used “for the reclamation of abandoned mine lands in conjunction with economic and community development and reuse goals,” the website stated.

Congress subsequently authorized $25 million in each of the following two years to Pennsylvania’s program, according to the website.

The boney pile tract is part of a 50-acre parcel that is part of the Phase 2 stage of the trail.

The township bought the parcel in November 2017 for $60,000 from Penn Rail LLC, a Virginia company, with a grant from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources paying half, Martsolf said previously.

The coal pile is on the site where the H.S. Kerbaugh Co. plant once stood.

First constructed in 1904, the plant included a machine shop, a carpenter ship, a foundry, a car building shop, a general supply house, an office created from the former farmhouse there and residences created from a former barn.

Over the next 26 years, until it was dismantled, the facility constructed at various times dump cars, auto trucks, moving vans, boilers, gasoline tanks and iron work and repaired engines, railcars, locomotives and steam shovels, according to several sources.

There was speculation recently that the boney pile came from off-screenings from a possible operation on site that produced bite-sized coal for steam engines.

But 90-year-old Donald Blazier of nearby Antis Road remembers that it was a station for a Blandburg area coal mining company to load the coal it produced onto hopper cars that the Pennsylvania Railroad brought into a siding there every couple of weeks.

“I helped load a couple of trains down there,” said Blazier, who made a living as a railroad freight conductor.

The material that was not good enough to load could have been set aside, which could account for the boney pile, Blazier said.

Francis Rumberger, 87, who also lives nearby, recalls that coal not good enough to be burned in steam engines was brought to the site and off-loaded from gondola cars.

One time, Rumberger obtained a half-ton of coal from the pile there for his furnace.

“It burned OK,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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