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After two decades of seeking funds, Richard Mine Treatment Plant a reality

By Esteban Fernandez, Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — For decades, the Richard Mine leeched toxic elements and acid into Deckers Creek.

The thousands of pounds of drainage seeping out of the mine killed off wildlife who made its home inside the creek’s water and suffused Morgantown with a sulfur smell. 

No longer.

On Monday, officials from the U.S. Department of Interior, Friends of Deckers Creek and the West Virginia Rivers Coalition unveiled the Richard Mine Acid Mine Drainage Treatment Facility and $140.7 million in federal funds for the project. The water treatment facility will extract elements such as aluminum and iron from the mine seepage as well as address an old problem with the state’s waterways.

“This facility is going to bring Deckers Creek back to life,” Autumn Crowe, interim executive director of the West Virginia Water Coalition, said. “It’s going to improve the whole watershed of Deckers Creek. It’s going to be huge. All of those improvements will trickle down into the Mon River and Ohio River. We need pieces all over the state to make the whole state healthy again.”

President Joe Biden’s Investing in America agenda helped pay for the project. The program initial allocation of $140 million went to West Virginia to help clean up abandoned mine sites and clear up polluted waterways. Steve Feldgus, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals at the U.S. Department of the Interior, said the program would also help create jobs across the state related to the creation and operation of these water treatment facilities.

Feldgus said he saw the location last March, when there was only a concrete pad. Now, it’s a fully finished facility, capable of ingesting water seeping out of the mountain and the extracting toxic minerals within, before releasing the clean water into the river. Useful elements such as aluminum, iron and other rare earth minerals can then be sold at fair market value.

“There’s things with amazing names, like neodymium and praseodymium,” Feldgus said. “This whole laundry list of elements that we need for wind turbines, smartphones, batteries, this is going to be another very helpful source of those minerals.”

Feldgus said each reclamation site takes around 500- to 1,000 days to build, creating jobs in the construction industry. 

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