WELLSBORO - Tioga County has been granted just under $600,000 in state Growing Greener funding for two watershed protection projects.
The allocation from the Department of Environmental Protection will be shared by the Babb Creek Watershed Association, which received $210,008 for its Hunter's Drift project, and the Marsh Creek Greenway Committee, which has $386,550 to help with the restoration and relocation of Marsh Creek between the Wellsboro Junction and the Charleston Street railroad depot.
Statewide, 57 projects involving 73 organizations will share in $9.72 million in funding from the Environmental Stewardship Fund, to improve watersheds, stormwater runoff, acid mine drainage and educational programs, among other environmental efforts.
Bill Beacom, chairman of the Babb Creek Watershed Association, said the money will be used to replace a crucial compost layer atop eight limestone pools at the opening of a mine known as Hunter's Drift. The pools treat acid mine drainage coming out of the Anna S mine system on Rattler Mountain.
According to Beacom, the system can treat up to 400 gallons each minute.
The Anna S mine complex is a 750 acre mining system that was part of the coal mining done around Blossburg and Morris.
"The ponds have limestone in the bottom for removing the acid from the water, and the top compost layer is getting used up as the acid water goes through it," he said. "The grant that BCWA received is to add additional spent mushroom compost and fine limestone to the organic compost layer on top of the ponds. The present layer is being used up and if not replaced the system will fail," he said.
According to Jim Weaver, a member of the Marsh Creek Greenway committee, part of that project involves "serious issues" with Marsh Creek that also impact the railroad line.
"We found that the water eroded the land encroaching on the railroad right of way. After we did a feasibility study, it identified three places. Two directly impact railroad right of way, and another contributes a lot of sediment," he said.
The money will be used to relocate the stream and address the sedimentation issue on the Clifford Allen property, Weaver added.
The committee has known about the sedimentation issue since 2001, when attention was brought to it by Stokesdale resident Grant Cavanaugh, who asked for assistance from the conservation district.
"The Marsh Creek project was combined with a Rails to Trails idea and that elevated it to the point where it got some attention (from DEP)," Weaver said. "This was our third application for Growing Greener for this restoration project and it was the charm," Weaver added.
In 2005 a feasibility study was done, and the entire project to create an extension of the Rails to Trails from the junction into Wellsboro will cost $7 million, much more than is available immediately, Weaver said.
"This grant money will be spent just to do the actual construction work to relocate the stream along the railway," he said.
The Myles Group, which operates the Tioga Central and the Wellsboro and Corning railroads, will provide a $50,000 in-kind match of ballast rock to protect the stream channel, according to Weaver.
"It will save a lot of money because we can deliver it via the railway, and they will also provide transportation and logistics," he said.
Work will begin in the spring once a contractor is selected and will take one season, Weaver said.
"But to finish the trail will be a long row to hoe," he added. "The funding streams we anticipated being able to use have all pretty much dried up."
The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources program has been restricted; and key partners in Greenway pedestrian trails - the state Department of Transportation and the federal Highway Administration - have much the same situation.
"We haven't had a highway bill in four years and the latest version has the enhancement line item zeroed out," Weaver said.
"Unless it can be re-established, the odds are slim unless a major benefactor comes along," he added.
Such a huge project is much more than any one entity can fund, Weaver said.
"So we are chunking it down into components, each with a price tag, and if we can get commitments to assist in those pieces we could name one of the bridges like the one that crosses Marsh Creek, after the entity that contributes, such as the Shell Greenway Bridge," he said.
"The good news is this project stands alone, and we will have protected the railroad from erosion and fixed the sedimentation problem that plugs up the bridge, so it is still a major accomplishment for the Marsh Creek Greenway committee that put it together," Weaver said.
"We are delighted to provide support to local communities and watershed groups to fund projects that enhance and protect Pennsylvania's water quality," DEP Secretary Mike Krancer said. "That includes projects that address abandoned mine drainage, stream bank restoration, stormwater reductions and agricultural runoff."
The projects will reduce non-point source pollution in watersheds where streams are impaired by implementing agricultural and stormwater best-management practices.
Developing, repairing or installing passive systems to treat abandoned mine drainage and supporting the establishment of buffers are among other goals.
One of the Growing Greener program's listed goals is to invest in projects that protect watersheds from impairment due to non-point source pollution or those that will restore damaged waterways.
Some examples of priority areas are restoration activities to reduce pollutant in impaired watersheds for which total maximum daily loads have been developed; projects in priority watersheds that would reduce the source of impairment and priority activities that lead to water quality restoration and protection.
In this latest grant round, 130 applicants requested about $24.5 million.
Applications came from counties, authorities and other municipalities; county conservation districts; councils of governments; watershed organizations that promote local watershed conservation efforts and organizations involved in restoring and protecting the environment.
An additional project, funded by the Surface Mining Conservation and Reclamation Grant, will cost $72,912.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Section 319 Non-point Source Management Program, which was created through the federal Clean Water Act to help reduce water pollution from non-point sources, is funding 15 additional projects, which totaling $3.12 million.