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Water authority buys property near Horseshoe Curve

‘Big Murph’ days numbered after land’s addition to watershed

The Altoona Water Authority has finally acquired the 2,450-acre former Cooney Bros. Coal Co. property near the Horseshoe Curve — property on which the state is beginning a reclamation project that will eliminate the “Big Murph” bony piles and ponds that have attracted ATV riders for years.

“This will cause a real ruckus,” with riders blaming the authority — although the authority was unaware of the Department of Environmental Protection work until recently, authority General Manager Mark Perry said at a meeting Thursday.

The authority has been trying to add the Cooney property to its Curve watershed for a couple of years in hopes of remediating acid mine seeps that turn Kittanning Run orange and force the authority to bypass that stream around its three reservoirs below the Curve.

The authority applied for a pair of $900,000 grants that would have covered the $1.8-million purchase price, but got only one of those grants — from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources — so it’s paying for the rest itself.

The DEP effort is the first phase of a major reclamation effort in that area, according to authority consulting engineer Mark Glenn of Gwin Dobson & Foreman.

Workers will remove trash and debris and backfill pits with 375,000 cubic yards of material, while adding 31,000 tons of pulverized lime to neutralize the acid in the piles, Glenn said.

There will also be a large amount of soil supplement, he said.

The authority hopes to obtain plans for the work “so we have a better idea” of what’s going on, Perry said.

The authority plans to look into passive treatment systems that could neutralize the contaminated water coming from the seeps, according to Perry.

But there are also other potential fixes, he said.

One solution that a Cooney consultant discussed previously with the DEP was to surface-mine a knoll to eliminate the problematic materials that are the source for the “harsh” pollution that issues from an old mine-shaft opening on the side of the knoll, Perry said.

The authority’s purchase of the property doesn’t give it any coal rights, so it’s only interest in having that kind of work done would be to remediate the pollution, Perry said.

In addition to the Cooney land, the authority recently bought an adjacent 302-acre tract, known as the Helsel property, for additional watershed ground.

Big Murph is between the village of Coupon and Kittanning Point above the apex of the Curve.

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