RICHARD, W.Va. — The years-long, on again-off again effort to build a Richard Mine drainage treatment plant is on again – and this time headed for the goal line.

Friends of Deckers Creek had worked for years to get one built. It began planning acid mine drainage remediation in 1990. A 2102 effort fizzled after a $2.9 million allotment from the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service was reallocated because a key factor never fell into place.

This time, NRCS is partnering with the state Department of Environmental Protection, said FODC Executive Director Sarah Cayton and DEP spokesman Terry Fletcher.

Paving the way for this new effort is a $3.375 million NRCS allotment provided in 2017: not a grant, but a type of fund administered through agreements with other government entities.

“We’re still waiting on an engineer estimate,” Fletcher said, “but we’re expecting costs to be approximately between $2.5 and $3.5 million to build. The WVDEP will cover operation and maintenance costs.”

The NRCS is providing funds for everything related to construction but the land purchase. DEP recently bought 7 acres around the discharge site – alongside W.Va. 7 in Richard — for $1.1 million to allow for construction.

“An industrial appraisal was needed for the purchase,” Fletcher said. “The WVDEP was comfortable with this purchase since the NRCS is paying for design and construction, and our total investment is still lower than if the state had been given the land.”

DEP’s funding for the project comes from money set aside by its Abandoned Mine Lands program, Fletcher said.

No timeline for construction has been set, Fletcher said. Planning is still in the preliminary stages and the details have yet to be finalized. They expect to have engineering plans and specifications in hand in about a year.

Cayton mentioned that they will have to build a bridge across Deckers Creek to access the mine portal – a pipe on the hill with orange water coming out – and the treatment site. Fletcher was unable to elaborate on details about the bridge.

DEP engineers plan to use the T&T Treatment Plant on Muddy Creek near Albright as a model for the process, although on a smaller scale, Fletcher said.

“The WVDEP’s AML program has been aware of the Richard Mine site for decades, but until recently, has not had the technology to treat Decker’s Creek in a cost-effective way,” he said. “The development and success of the T&T Treatment Facility and its wastewater treatment technology allows the WVDEP to repair streams – such as Decker’s Creek – both chemically and aesthetically.”

The $7.97 million T&T facility began full operation in March 2018 and helped restore the lower 3.4 miles of Muddy Creek – a tributary into the Cheat River, Fletcher said. “The lower section of Muddy Creek was significantly impaired for decades due to acid mine drainage from mine blowouts from the T&T Mine Complex in 1994 and 1995 and was devoid of aquatic life. The T&T Treatment Facility has helped restore the creek to a natural state and reestablish biological connectivity throughout the entire 15.6 miles of Muddy Creek.”

It was developed in-house by DEP engineers, is capable of treating 6 million gallons of AMD per day and allows for remote operation and control.

Richard mine facts

The defunct Richard Mine – it closed in 1953 – covers about 3 square miles, with all but a small portion of it running northeast of Deckers Creek and W.Va. 7 from Richard. In the 1990s, DEP’s AML worked on the mine, opened and drained it and put in pipes so water wouldn’t pile up inside.

The discharge emerges from the site of the original mine seal, flows from an 18-inch pipe into a 44-inch concrete trench, then into a concrete lined channel and into the creek,

The mine is the single largest source of acid mine drainage into the creek: 200 gallons per minute – enough to fill a 22,000-gallon (16 by 18 feet with an 8-foot deep end) swimming pool in less than two hours.

Each year, that contaminated flow puts into the creek 730,500 pounds of acidity, 140,000 pounds of iron, 59,000 pounds of aluminum and 3,200 pounds of manganese.

The drainage kills aquatic life in along the creek’s lower six miles and the metals turn it red-orange all the way through Morgantown to its mouth at the Monongahela River. The aluminum leaves white deposits that can be seen year-round at the discharge site and the along creek’s edge during low flows.