2014 Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Award Winners
OSMRE first recognized outstanding abandoned mine land reclamation and exemplary reclamation techniques in 1992, when it started the annual Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Awards Program. The program mirrors one of the objectives of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to ensure that land mined for coal would be restored to beneficial use as part of the mining process, and that lands abandoned without reclamation prior to the law would be reclaimed. OSMRE Director Joe Pizarchik presented the awards at the annual conference of the National Association of Abandoned Mine Land Programs in Columbus, Ohio, September 21-24, 2014, during the AML Awards Banquet.
2014 Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Awards Presentation Video
The winners of the 2014 Abandoned Mine Reclamation Awards.
Appalachian Regional Award Winner: Aaron Run Watershed AMD Remediation Project, Westernport, Maryland
The Aaron Run Watershed AMD Remediation Project focused on the Savage River watershed, home to Maryland’s only intact premier population of brook trout. Acid mine drainage, or AMD, near the confluence of Aaron Run and the Savage River three miles away had killed off approximately 30% of the trout population there.
The project had four primary goals: eliminate or treat several sources of acid mine drainage, return native brook trout to Aaron run, enhance the fishery economy, and remove the site from Maryland’s AMD impairment list.
AMD, coming from underground and surface mining from as far back as the 1930s, polluted the three and a half mile watershed. Testing revealed pH levels as low as 3.5 in some parts. Planning for the cleanup began with a 1989 feasibility study and a search for the AMD sources, followed by a biological impact study in 2000.
Using both passive and active treatment systems at multiple sites, including the building of manmade concrete treatment tanks as well as creating wetlands and flood plains, Maryland was able to raise the stream’s pH. Follow-on testing showed both the pollutant loads and pH values are well within state and Federal standards.
The state stocked Aaron Run with young trout in 2012. By 2013, the state fisheries service found that those fish were now reproducing in the watershed; results that took more than two decades to achieve.
Mid-Continent Regional Award Winner: The Goff AML Reclamation Project, Marion County, Iowa
The state faced reclaiming a 180 acre site that had been abandoned for more than 50 years after decades of both underground and surface strip mining.
The site included more than 500 feet of dangerous highwalls, 12 acres of waste piles and embankments, 51 acres of spoil, several impaired streams. The site also contained industrial and residential waste, and had little value for wildlife or grazing. Even so, people were trespassing to hunt, fish and dump garbage. Complicating cleanup efforts the most was the presence of three high pressure natural gas pipelines crossing areas where coal spoils had been placed.
Before reclamation, the site had an unnamed stream running across it and 19 ponds totaling almost 10 acres. The site also had almost three acres of wetlands, which required minimal disturbance of stream channels, and mitigation for any wetland loss that occurred.
The state divided the project into three phases, each with its own contract. Design engineers then needed to ensure that each phase was completed successfully, and that the final results of the three contracts were woven together into one seamless reclamation project.
The reclamation plan required the creation of more than 20-thousand feet of terraced landscaping, more than 1.5 million cubic yards of excavation, and planting and seeding 137 acres. Because of the complexity of the project, the state had to build numerous partnerships with industry, conservation groups, and Federal, State, and local governments, among others. Project proponents also had to obtain the cooperation of nine separate landowners.
The result was one of the largest reclamation projects in Iowa history, now known as the Goff AML Reclamation Project.
Western Regional Award Winner: Smith Hill Coal Mine Reclamation, Crested Butte, Colorado
The Western Regional Award winner lies less than a mile from one of America’s best known ski resorts, Crested Butte Mountain Resort. In fact, mining at this site in Colorado goes back to 1884. More than 1.2 million tons of anthracite coal was produced before the site was abandoned in 1946.
For more than 50 years, the site remained unused. During that time, the land deteriorated, buildings collapsed, and the presence of coal waste provided just enough nutrients to support invasive plant species and noxious weeds. Then, a coalition formed between the state and private owners. These partners were willing to join the Crested Butte Land Trust in taking the risk on this property that was showing a lot of degradation from historic mining.
The land trust also maintains a conservation area on the property, and a local rancher uses part of the site as a cattle load-out area. The stakeholders faced a tough reclamation project. The cattle load-out area was in poor shape and an artificial pond had formed through sedimentation, which flooded both the access road and coal waste piles.
The entire cattle load-out area was 100% coal, it was fine grained, and there were large rilles and gullies. It was at a pretty significant slope from the hillside down to the wetland with a lot of noxious weeds and the road in would wash out every spring during meltoff. The rancher would have to come in fix the road, fill in some large potholes that had established during the winter, and then bring his cattle in.
The refuse piles also fragmented the wetlands associated with the nearby Slate River, which impacted the hydrologic characteristics of the water. One primary goal was to respect and preserve the historic aspects of the site. This was the last stop on the rail line that came into Crested Butte, and there was a large turnaround here in the wetland, and we believe the coal that was left in the wetland was from that railroad turnaround. So this historic aspect of this site was very important.
The Trust removed 11000 cubic yards of coal waste from the wetlands and planted approximately 15000 live plants, another five thousand live willow cuttings that were harvested onsite. They planted about 30 patches of wetland sod that were harvested from the surrounding area, and also planted a hundred live willow plants.
The Trust also left a lot of the historic coal piles on this site because they weren’t impacting the environment and they wanted to maintain the historical flair to this site. The whole point of this project was to maintain the land use and restore the wetlands but not to erase the very rich mining history on this site.
Small Project Award Winner: Big Ben Emergency Shaft Project, Springfield, Missouri
The 2014 Small Project Award winner is the product of a fast moving emergency that threatened two homes in the Nation’s heartland.
It was about 9:30 at night in late January 2013, when a large hole opened between two homes in Springfield, Missouri. When state officials were notified two days later, they realized they were dealing with mine subsidence.
There was this huge hole there. This air conditioning unit was hanging off the pipes. The gas meter was located down there, and it was sitting on the gas pipe and it was bent double, fortunately there was no gas leak. The neighbor’s house, the corner of his house was actually hanging in midair. He had nothing underneath the corner.
The hole was part of a vertical mine shaft known as Big Ben, a 1950’s era lead and zinc shaft that extended more than 190 feet underground. Despite the fact the shaft was filled after mining ended, the earth subsided, creating a hole 31 feet long, 14 feet wide, and 15 feet deep, centered almost exactly between the two houses.
In just one day, the state contracted to have crews excavate the shaft, install rock fill on the sides of the opening, and install supports so permanent repairs could begin. Within two weeks, a private engineer had designed a concrete support beam to span the vertical opening to prevent the more threatened of the two houses from falling in.
In March, the contractor excavated 18 feet down and installed a 77 cubic yard concrete plug to prevent further subsidence. During the following 2 months, the contractor grouted all the remaining voids under each home and workers planted and reseeded the yards where the subsidence first appeared
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources' quick and effective response paved the way.
National Award Winner: AML Site 309, Mill Creek Highwall Project, Pike County, Indiana
The National Award winner is unique because it brings together both abandoned mine reclamation and current active mining, a combination that provided superior reclamation at extremely low cost.
The hazard surrounding this project was a long and dangerous highwall that stretched more than eight tenths of a mile, an area that few people enjoyed driving near.
The danger was obvious, there was a pretty severe drop-off right off the immediate road. The highwall stood more than 110 feet above ground level. Occasionally, rocks and boulders would fall from the highwall, endangering both people on the road and in boats on the lake. And on some days, school kids.
The road is highly traveled, not only by local residences but daily school bus traffic.
The county road itself also presented a danger. It was so narrow that a school bus would have to pull off to the side of the road to allow other cars to pass. Triad Mining and the state discussed a possible way to eliminate the danger while providing a small revenue stream for the company.
Communication started with the DNR about possibly working with them on an adjacent highwall.
One of the biggest obstacles was cost. Using traditional reclamation methods, such as backfilling the highwall, meant clearing 35 acres of mine spoil, at an estimated cost of $6.2 million – making it one of the most expensive reclamation projects in state history.
Then state regulators realized they might be able to provide the remaining coal in the highwall to the operator as a cost offset. This process with Triad mining through the highwall, bringing their excess spoil with them, and using that as backfill material was a win for the property.
The state, OSMRE, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service all signed a cooperative agreement with Triad Mining to mine the site for $300,000. This amount nearly covered the cost of earthmoving. During mining operations, the company closed the county road. Once mining was completed, Triad rebuilt the road, straightening it to eliminate blind spots, and expanding it to two full lanes. The company also created more than 1400 feet of new streams using natural design techniques, therefore, enhancing the wildlife potential of the site.
The Indiana Division of Reclamation and its partners completed the project for 95% less than projected costs, helped to provide for the nation's energy needs, protected the local community, and enhanced the environment.