2012 Excellence in Surface Coal Mining
National Award Winner
Cottage Grove Mine, Peabody Energy, Equality, Illinois
The National Award for Excellence in Surface Coal Mining was presented to the Cottage Grove Mine, a Peabody Energy Coal Company near Equality Illinois.
The project is actually five different mine sites near the town of Equality. Peabody carries out active mining 24 hours a day on the site, which is more than 3500 acres. Approximately 250 people work in the area, producing coal from seams that go as deep as 120 feet. The mine produces about 2.3 million tons of coal each year. About 85% of Cottage Grove sits on prime farmland, and because the mine complex is located in some of the most productive agricultural land in Illinois, it can be difficult to meet Federal post-mining Proof of Productivity standards.
To address that challenge, Peabody investigated soil conditions before mining started, and decided to remove all topsoil from the area. It then stored the topsoil in stockpiles. After mining was completed, the company used the unconsolidated topsoil as rooting medium for new plant life. Using trucks, then pressure dozers and eventually Caterpillars equipped with GPS units, workers spread the retained topsoil to specified depths and contours. It then planted a wide variety of alfalfa, orchard grass, medium red clover, alsike clover, perennial ryegrass and winter rye to produce hay. Periodic mowing of the hay provides ground cover, food for insect life, and prevents erosion.
The company maintains the hay crops for two years to ensure the reclaimed land will meet the required productivity standards. Then, when conditions are right, they rip the field and allow it to sit another year. This is the final preparation for the return of row crops. From 2004 until 2010, the fields produced 64 successful hay yields before they were allowed to lie fallow. During this down time, the field provided food for wildlife, and geese, deer, and other animals have returned to Cottage Grove.
Today, many of these same fields are used to grow corn, and those yields have averaged over 200 bushels per acre, well above the county average. As for the company, it has transferred many of its techniques to other mine sites, allowing those sites to see similar reclamation successes.