PennDOT filing for permit to move pyritic rock from I-99 Skytop location

PennDOT said Thursday that a nine-mile section of I-99 from Bald Eagle to Port Matilda is still slated to be finished by the end of 2007 and could open once completed ahead of a section closer to State College.
At a press conference Thursday evening, officials said the possibility exists the section could open ahead of a section to the north that includes an environmental issue that the agency has worked on solving since 2003.
PennDOT was expected to apply today for a permit from the state Department of Environmental protection to remove Pyrite from portions of I-99 at Skytop in Centre County.
The Associated Press reported PennDOT’s announcement yesterday that they will move forward with plans to haul a million tons of pyritic rock to a disposal site in Worth Township, which is located three miles away from Skytop. The plan is part of a $50 million cleanup of a water contamination source.
AP reported State Transportation Secretary Allen Biehler said his department will apply today for a state environmental permit to move spoil piles and fill areas to the Bald Eagle Creek side, where contaminant limits are less restrictive. The PennDOT secretary and other officials appeared at a press conference in Port Matilda on Thursday evening to make the announcement.
PennDOT District 2 spokesperson Marla Fannin told The Daily Herald this morning the application for the permit was being submitted to DEP “as we speak.”
A press release from PennDOT District 2 said PennDOT already has a permit application under review with DEP. The application is for PennDOT’s plan to complete work in the Skytop area, where the pyritic material cannot be moved and has to be treated where it is situated.
The press release explained the new permit application addresses PennDOT’s plan to remove and transport about 675,000 cubic yards of pyritic material to an engineered rock placement area in Worth Township. The ERPA would serve as a containment site or what Fannin described as a “ dry tomb” to house the material.
PennDOT said it has held a number of public meetings to explain the concept and design of the ERPA and will continue to update the public through meetings and newsletters. Fannin said a required public hearing would be held on the permit application. She said DEP is responsible for the hearing and she did not know when it would be held.
Fannin said a number of sites were looked at before Worth Township was selected. A previous application for a permit had been made to move the material to a site in Indiana County. That idea was tabled after public outcry over the choice.
AP reported Gary Byron, assistant regional director for DEP, said his agency would likely approve the permits for dealing with the moveable and immovable materials by early autumn. After a 13-month period to build the disposal site, it will take nine months to haul the rocks there. Construction of the road could resume during that period as the pyritic spoil piles are being hauled away.
AP said about two million tons of pyritic rocks were unearthed three years ago during I-99 construction and dumped in spoil piles and fill areas that leached into Buffalo Run and groundwater. Pyrite, or iron sulfide, reacts with water and oxygen to create sulfuric acid.
“Our primary concern is to get the material treated,” Biehler said. He said stopgap measures have controlled the problem, but the state needs to get on with a permanent solution.
AP reported building the disposal site would cost about $6.2 million, and transportation costs, a treatment plant, land acquisition and other costs would add almost $19 million, officials have said. Another $14 million is needed to treat the pyrite that cannot be moved and about $9 million has been spent on temporary measures, with $2 million more in costs expected. That brings the total cleanup costs to about $50 million, Biehler said.
Fannin explained the possibility of the Bald Eagle to Port Matilda section opening ahead of the section where the pyrite problem exists. When both sections are completed I-99 will extend from its current termination point at Bald Eagle to the Mount Nittany Expressway (Route 322), just west of State College.
Fannin said, “(Secretary Biehler explained) if it became clear that the section between Bald Eagle and Port Matilda was going to be finished well ahead of the ERPA and the completion of I-99 closer to State College then we certainly would be looking at what we could do to open any section of that roadway as long as it made sense.”
She said it was “a little too early to tell” if that would be possible. PennDOT could still choose to open both sections at the same time.
Editor’s note: The Associated Press contributed to this report.