IM this article to a friend!

November 12, 2002

Team 4: Mine Monies Not Going Where Needed

Nov. 12, 2002

WTAE-TV's Jim Parsons Reports

The accident at Quecreek Mine last summer put a spotlight on dangers that lurk in old, abandoned mines in western Pennsylvania. Nine miners who were trapped in Quecreek escaped death, but four other Pennsylvanians were not so lucky this year.

As Team 4's Jim Parsons reports, federal dollars are dedicated for Pennsylvania to clean up the mines, but that money isn't going where it's needed.

The following investigative report by Parsons aired Nov. 12 on WTAE-TV Action News at 6 p.m.

If you have driven through western Pennsylvania's coal country, you've seen the streams running orange with acid mine drainage. You know that abandoned mines mean polluted water. But you may not know about another hidden danger.

Scott Roberts, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection: "There is a quarry in York County where there have been approximately 10 fatalities in the past decade. It's long and narrow, (with) very clifflike sides. People get in and then can't get out."

The dangers of abandoned mines became painfully evident this past summer to a group of students from Pittsburgh's Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. For a summer reunion, they went to an abandoned rock quarry in Lancaster.

Everything was fine that mid-August day, until tragedy struck. Lillian Cirino watched her fiance, Gus Randazzo, and another friend drown.

Cirino: "He was my best friend. He was the father of my baby. He was my favorite person."

The group from the school thought this was a pond, a local swimming spot. They did not know that the water was 70 feet deep and the water temperature was a dangerous 41 degrees.

Cirino: "I wish I could have saved him. I tried to go in to save him, but I'm pregnant."

Cirino and her sister, Caroline Villafane, recently returned to the quarry to visit a makeshift shrine to Randazzo and the other man who drowned.

Villafane: "Lilly and I find comfort in knowing that he's up in Heaven."

But they find no comfort in what lies here on this patch of earth.

Villafane: "The owners of the quarry must know that this is wrong. This is very dangerous. There's a fence. It's broken -- kids can go in there right now. It's awful."

There are 250,000 acres of abandoned surface mines in Pennsylvania alone. It's a $15 billion problem to fix. And $1.5 billion of that money is available right now in Washington, D.C., in a fund that Congress refuses to spend.

State Rep. Melissa Hart, North Hills: "The money has been apppropriated. It's there for us to use for this reclamation. We need to make sure that it's released and spent in places like Pennsylvania, so we can complete the job."

But the fund expires in 2004. Unless politicians free it up soon, hundreds of abandoned mines will be left like this, leaving unsuspecting Pennsylvanians like Randazzo in harm's way.

Villafane: "This is very dangerous ... I am very angry. There's a baby that's going to be born without a father."

Hart is a co-sponsor of a bill that would require the federal government to hand over the abandoned mine monies to Pennsylvania and 22 other states. The bill has passed the House, but the Senate has not taken action yet.

Copyright 2002 by ThePittsburghChannel. All rights reserved.