CENTRALIA — The former Michelle Buckley on Saturday found herself cleaning up garbage in the yard where her house once stood in Centralia
Buckley, whose last name is now Stauffer, traveled from Stafford, Va. to Columbia County for sixth snnual Centralia Cleanup hosted by the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation. Centralia, located in Columbia County just a few miles outside Mount Carmel in Northumberland County, is perhaps Pennsylvania’s most famous ghost town after an underground mine fire started in 1962. Stauffer at age 13 moved out of the town with her family in 1981.
"It's all overgrown now," said Stauffer about the property she grew up on on the former Locust Avenue. "I'm mad. They're littering in my yard. I still feel a sense of ownership."
Only a handful of houses and residents, the municipal building, a few cemeteries, and the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church just over the borough line still remain. Otherwise, there are crumbling stone foundations, empty lots and an old portion of Route 61 commonly known as Graffiti Highway. The abandoned roadway has become a popular tourist destination for its smoking cracked asphalt and hundreds of spraypainted words and images.
Centralia also became a dumping ground, according to EPCAMR Executive Director Bobby Hughes, who formerly worked with the state Department of Environmental Protection in the early '90s by monitoring Centralia's temperatures.
They find glass bottles, plastic bottles, insulation, household waste, chairs, recliners, couches, toilets, particleboard and dozens of tires. The strangest thing was a stuffed E.T. doll, said Hughes.
"A lot of it has been historic," said Hughes. "This town doesn't deserve it. There are still people who live here and visit their (deceased) relatives in the cemetery."
This year, more than 100 volunteers filled a 30-cubic-yard Dumpster and nearly filled a second 40-cubic-yard Dumpster. They collected more than 300 tires, 12 televisions and 1,500 pounds of paint cans.
"All in all, that's a huge dent in the illegal dumping again," said Hughes. "I'm really happy with the results."
Last year, PennDOT vacated and turned over the .74-mile stretch of Graffiti Highway in Centralia and Conyngham Township to Pitreal Corp, a coal mining company and subsidiary of Pagnotti Enterprises in Wilkes-Barre. Twenty-five years ago, PennDOT closed a portion of the road and constructed a new road around the old portion. The abandoned roadway has become a popular tourist destination for its smoking cracked asphalt and hundreds of spraypainted words and images.
Hughes said he wasn't discouraging tourists from visiting, but implored people coming to do away with their trash when they leave. Stauffer agreed and noted that people shouldn't be spraypainting off the highway.
"It's one thing to do the highway, it's another to do it in the town," said Stauffer. "It's disrespectful. People live here."
Congressman Meuser helps
U.S. Rep Dan Meuser (R-09) also stopped by for a few hours to assist in the cleanup.
"Unfortunately there are those that feel that Centralia is a place to bring their junk and garbage," said Meuser. "We're bringing attention to the fact that Centralia is not a place to dump. We have some great people doing some cleanup."
He said he recently introduced legislation that would incentivize environmentally-focused cleanup and remediation of coal refuse piles across Pennsylvania. H.R. 4735, the Mine Affected Community Energy and Environment Act, creates a federal performance-based tax credit (PTC) for coal refuse-fired power plants that generate electricity through the removal and remediation of the coal refuse found on abandoned mine lands.