By Leah Revo

Coal mine affects on backyards

Christina Patterson, 38, of North Baldwin, worries about her children every time they go out to play in their backyard because of the abandoned mine holes that have opened up.

Sinkholes forming in residential backyards are causing concern to some homeowners in the Baldwin neighborhood. These craters are causing people to consider who is responsible and to look for possible solutions to the growing problem.

“My kids are always flying back through the woods on their quads,” Patterson said. “Some of those sinkholes are almost six feet deep. I worry they might hit one.”

Over the past few years growing sinkholes in the North Baldwin area are forming as a result of abandoned mines from Pittsburgh’s industrial era. Members of the community said they worry about the gaping problem and wonder what they can do to fix it.

Coal mining in Pittsburgh started in the late 18th century, with production peaking in the early 20th century, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Today there are only 40 active underground coal mines in the state of Pennsylvania, with coal being used for electricity generation and metal production, it said.

There are, however, over 5,000 abandoned mines across the state, according to the agency. The mines form a hollow reminder of what were once worksites below what have become, in many cases, residential areas. Many of these mines have been forgotten about, but in recent years, some have been brought to the attention of members of the North Baldwin community.

On Revo Road, residents have found sinkholes forming on and around their properties; this is no surprise to them once they consider location, as a majority of the road sits atop an abandoned mine.

However, the unseen nature of underground industrial sites is not one that people tend to consider on a day-to-day basis until it starts affecting their safety and stability. People are mostly worried about the danger these hollow underground craters could cause for their kids and their property.

Not only do residents fear that someone could fall in or get stuck in one of these sinkholes, but they also worry about the sinkholes’ effect on the integrity of the structure of their homes.

“That is exactly why when we built this house we bought mine insurance,” Donna Deakin, 45, of Baldwin, said. “Looking at the map, there is a mine that runs really close to our property. I just felt the need to get it in case sometime down the line it causes damage to the foundation of our home.”

Deakin showed off one of the sinkholes on her property. There was orange fencing around the hole at first, but the hole grew larger and the fencing itself fell in.

Any citizen can call to get suspected mine subsidence evaluated, said Patrick Webb, assistant director of the state Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation.

First, the state would assess to see if it is a problem caused by a pre-1977 abandoned mine feature. If it is, they will start going about ways to fix the problems. They are also able to stabilize the deep mines under people’s homes by filling up the hole with concrete.

The Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation also handles other abandoned mine related problems such as fires, dangerous highwalls, open shafts, and impacted water supplies.

To see a change on their street, it is now up to the members of the community to ignore the problem no longer, and make the call for a safer place to live.