DEP Pushes Mine Subsidence Insurance in Pleasant Hills

Feb 13, 2015

Flyers like this one are being sent to property owners in Penn Hills in an effort to get them sign up for mine subsidence insurance.
Credit PA DEP

Nearly 90 percent of Pleasant Hills sits above old mines. So, the state Department of Environmental Protection is sending mine subsidence insurance (MSI) reminders to about 2,000 property owners in the borough.

The fliers show each recipient’s property on a map in relation to the nearest abandoned mines and urge residents to apply online for MSI, with coverage ranging from $5,000 to $500,000.

Pleasant Hills will be the first municipality to receive the mailers, according to DEP spokesman John Poister.

“There are abandoned mines that were dug many, many years ago underneath most of the town and it’s an area where we done have very many people, if anyone, signed up for mine subsidence insurance,” he said.

In 2013, a subsidence damaged 10 homes on Fredrick Street in Mt. Oliver. According to the DEP, only one home had coverage.

Poister said when the miners left, they didn’t do much to reinforce the mines.

“When they exhausted the supply of coal, they did not leave much in the way of support for the ground above the coal mines,” he said. “They used what is known as a primitive room and pillar style of mining.”

Over time, the wooden supports rot and the coal pillars give way, causing the surface to sink. For property owners, this can lead to cracked walls and fractured foundations, something that standard homeowners insurance doesn’t cover. Poister said repairs typically exceed $100,000.

“Insurance policies don’t cover subsidence,” he said. “So, if you gamble and don’t get the mine subsidence insurance and there is a subsidence incident in your neighborhood, you’re likely not going to be covered.”

The DEP estimates about 1 million structures across the state are above abandoned mines, but only 60,000 buildings have subsidence insurance.

Currently, monthly premiums are about 55 cents for every $100,000 of coverage. According to the DEP, a $175,000 policy would cost about $8 a month.

This is not the first notification campaign the DEP has put together. In 2013, the agency launched a small-scale operation on streets that had already experienced a subsidence incident, but Poister said the DEP wants to be more proactive by reaching out to at-risk neighborhoods.

“What we would rather do now is really go after whole communities and try to spread the word,” he said. “We’re going to do this not only here in western Pennsylvania, but we’re also planning on doing it in northeastern Pennsylvania where the area is also undermined heavily.”