By Brendan S. Gibbons
WILKES-BARRE, Penn. (AP) – Robert Hughes stopped his maroon SUV in the middle of Espy Street, turning on his flashers to let drivers know he might be there for a while.
He knelt by an uncovered hole in the street, about the diameter of a coffee can, and spooled a yellow, metaltipped measuring tape into the dark. He lowered the tip 23 feet before a beep let him know it had touched water.
He had found the surface of the pool that formed in the abandoned coal mine beneath the Wilkes-Barre neighborhood.
“Do you think all these people here know there’s water 23 feet below their houses?” Hughes said, nodding toward the homes about a hundred feet away. “Doubt it.”
Borehole measurements are some of the data Hughes, 41, is using to create three-dimensional maps of the abandoned mines below the Lackawanna and Wyoming valleys. As executive director of the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation, part of his job is studying the underground lakes and orange creeks left over from the anthracite coal era.
Recently, the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Mine Subsidence Insurance Board issued the coalition a three-year grant of $321,968 to map the honeycombed voids beneath the anthracite region.
“If I was going to build a house anywhere in this area, I wouldn’t only be concerned about whether or not there has been mining in there, I’d be concerned if there was water beneath your house,” Hughes said. “You can get flooded basements; you can get subsidence in those areas where there is a mine pool beneath you. It’s just a matter of how deep that mine pool is and how much cover is on the roof of the rock beneath your house.”1 2 3 4 next >>