Structures on the ground surface can be damaged due to surface effects of underground subsidence. §89.142a defines structures as including, but not limited to, commercial, industrial, or recreational buildings; noncommercial buildings used by the public such as schools, churches and hospitals; dwellings and permanently affixed appurtenant structures or improvements, such as: garages, storage sheds and barns, greenhouses and related buildings, customer-owned utilities and cables, fences and other enclosures, retaining walls, paved or improved patios, walks and driveways, septic sewage treatment facilities, inground swimming pools, lot drainage and lawn and garden irrigation systems, barns and silos, and permanently affixed structures of 500 or more square feet in area that are used for raising livestock, poultry or agricultural products, for storage of animal waste or for the processing or retail marketing of agricultural products produced on the farm on which the structures are located. The operator is required to survey and document the conditions of structures that may be affected prior to mining to determine pre-mining conditions.
Material damage to a structure happens when there is a functional impairment of the structure or when a significant change in the condition, appearance or utility of a structure or facility from its pre-subsidence condition. This could be minor, such as sticking doors or windows, or major, such as cracking in the foundation or walls. Operators are responsible to fully rehabilitate, restore, replace, or compensate owners for material damage to a structure resulting from subsidence.
A structure owner must notify the operator that structure damage has occurred. If the parties are unable to reach a resolution, the structure owner may file a claim in writing with the Department. If the Department determines the operator is responsible for material damage, the Department may order the operator to repair the damage. If the Department investigation finds the damage was not caused by mine subsidence, the owner has the right to file an appeal with the PA Environmental Hearing Board.
The Department expediently addresses structure damage incidents. These cases are frequently resolved immediately, but a small group may remain “unresolved” for several months or years.
Incidents may remain unresolved for long periods for several reasons. The operator and landowner may decide to monitor the situation for additional effects as mining progresses. Operators may want to wait 6 months or more to see if additional effects occur. Another longwall panel may be passing close by within a year so the parties may choose to delay repairs. Some structural damage claims are related to other claims such as land damage or water loss that complicates immediate solutions and delays closure of the cases. Incidents may also remain unresolved due to ongoing Department investigation, liability disputes, or negotiation of repairs or settlement between the landowner and the operator. If the structure owner does not agree with the operator’s estimate of repair, they may file a claim to the Department whereby the Department will determine monetary amount of damage and order the operator to compensate the structure owner. The parties may involve attorneys to settle claims of compensation. The case is closed when an agreement is received by the Department.
Last updated 11/29/2021