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Federal officials tour newly online Richard Mine AMD treatment Plant

David Beard, The Dominion Post
April 22, 2024

MORGANTOWN – The new Richard Mine acid mine drainage treatment plant began operation last week, and on Monday, officials from the U.S. Department of Interior and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement toured the site in advance of a special DOI announcement (see companion story).

“This pretty much will help restore the lower end of the watershed,” Jonathan Knight, with the state Department of Environmental Protection Office of Abandoned Mine Lands told the officials.

Knight gave a brief history of the mine and the efforts to get the plant built, culminating in a Natural Resources Conservation Service partnership with the DEP to get it built. The DEP’s Office of Special Reclamation helped design the site.

AML’s Travis Parsons led the tour, which began at the mine portal manhole where the mine water previously flowed down a concrete trench into Deckers Creek. Above the channel, the water was clear, below it the water was orange.

Now, he showed the group, the water is diverted off to the right (in the downstream direction) and underground through a 12-inch line into a manhole, then to another manhole – the metering manhole – where the water flow is measured before heading into the plant. At the moment it was just over 900 gallons per minute.

The plant crew uses the flow rate to determine some aspects of treatment, he said.

Inside the plant, the water heads over toward the big solo to bring the pH up so it’s no longer acid. Hydrated lime comes down from the silo and is mixed with water to create a lime slurry that is pumped to rapid mix tanks to join the mine water.

The water heads to the flocculators, where the suspended solids are aggregated into larger clumps called flocs. From there, the water goes to the two clarifying pools. The visitors looked down into the pools to see plumes of brown sludgy water flowing in.

In the clarifiers, the sludge settles out and gets pumped to two huge geotube bags situated outside at the edge of the plant. The now-clean water gets pumped back into the creek – through a new channel downstream of the old one.

Parsons led the group into motor control center – the brains of the plant, he called it. A computer server sits inside a gray metal cabinet and the monitor allows the operator to scroll through various screens and see every piece of equipment and make adjustments. Operators will also be able to access this screen from their cellphones and iPads and laptops and make adjustments remotely.

The Richard Mine Complex, Knight told the group, will also become the central hub to remotely control other AMD sites.

“With the exception of this plant, all of our systems are very primitive,” he said. They have a contract to replace six systems with fully automated systems that will all communicate with this one. They expect to have the sites upgraded and tied in within the next two to three years.

DEP also has stream restoration projects planned for downstream on Deckers Creek. Among them: Farther downstream, the Rock Forge mine on the other side across W.Va. 7 is dumping into the creek and saturating backyards and basements of homes along the road.

An orange-colored wet spot crossing the road shows where the mine is draining. They plan to capture the runoff from it and pump it back to the Richard plant for treatment.

And further upgrades are planned for the complex, he told them. Existing buildings will be upgraded and used for storage and equipment. They plan to pave the gravel parking lot. And the whole site will be fenced off for security.

A third clarifier, in an attached building, is not yet online. This one will be used for extracting rare earth elements – a project tied to WVU Water Research Institute’s rare earth element production project. The extracted material will be formed into a preconcentrate and then shipped to a central facility for processing and refining into rare earth metals...

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