2015 Excellence in Surface Coal Mining Award Winners
The Excellence in Surface Coal Mining Awards are presented to coal mining companies that achieve the most exemplary mining and reclamation in the country.
For the last 29 years, OSMRE has recognized mining companies that have gone the extra mile to reclaim the land, and the communities nearby, after mining is complete. In that time, the bureau has given awards to companies for, among other things, reforestation, for creating habitat for wildlife, sequestering carbon emissions, replanting rare forms of native groundcover, employing geomorphic reclamation, and providing millions of dollars for educational and community needs.
The National Awards are presented to coal mining companies for achieving exemplary mining and reclamation practices. A coal mining operation may be nominated for achievement in a specific aspect of reclamation, or for overall performance in meeting goals of the Surface Mining Law.
The Good Neighbor Awards are presented to coal companies that successfully work with the surrounding land owners and the community while completing mining and reclamation.
OSMRE Deputy Director Glenda Owens provided the keynote address and presented the awards on November 9th in Washington, DC, as part of the National Mining Association's 2015 Department of the Interior Awards Luncheon.
2015 Excellence in Surface Coal Mining Reclamation Awards Presentation Video
The winners of the 2015 Excellence in Surface Coal Mining Awards
Good Neighbor Award Winner: Mingo Logan Coal Company, Left Fork #2 Mine, Sharples, WV
Mingo Logan Coal Company began producing coal at this West Virginia site in 1987, ended production in the early 90’s before starting work again in 2006. Because of the time span between production phases, the site provides a unique view of each phase of mining and reclamation in one area.
To achieve the eventual post mining land use of building wildlife habitat, providing for outdoor education and opportunities to hunt, the company used an aggressive planting campaign in several phases. That included using a customized seed mix on areas to promote tree growth in Approximate Original Contour areas, designed to prevent erosion while also improving soil chemistry for tree planting and survival.
At the same time, the company developed food plots for wildlife that included planting turnips and chicory. As part of an Earth Day celebration, local elementary school students did some of the planting of food crops, and older students built and placed wood duck boxes near waterways to encourage nesting. Working with professional foresters, the company then planted a variety of trees saplings that included native species such as oak, cherry, pine, persimmon and hazelnut, and complementary shrubs.
In later stages, the operator hosted a “Women in the Outdoors” event to provide outdoor education, and training on firearms, archery, fly fishing and food. And still later on, the company hosted the first Wheelin’ Sportsmen event, which allowed people with disabilities to hunt and share the outdoor experience.
For its commitment to restoring, enhancing and creating wildlife habitat, providing educational opportunities, and for aiding outdoorsmen and women with disabilities, the 2015 Good Neighbor Award goes to the Mingo Logan Coal Company of Sharples, West Virginia.
Western Regional Award Winner: Cloud Peak Energy Cordero Rojo Mine, WY
Cloud Peak Energy set a goal similar to that of OSMRE’s proposed Stream Protection Rule. That is, for an operator to return a mined stream area to its premining hydrologic form and function, and to provide for the return of aquatic biota to that stream.
The work at the Cordero Rojo Mine succeeded in a spectacular fashion, constructing almost 20-thousand feet of stream channel, that included floodplain pools and runs, alluvium perched aquifers, vortex rock weirs, armored scour pools and simulated backwater areas.
The aquifers provide storage water for the vegetation on stream banks, which are stabilized to resist erosion, and are seeded with prescribed mixes of native plants. Both macroinvertebrates and invertebrates have returned to the post mined area, and so have fish.
For returning a portion of the Wyoming Belle Fourche river to a close approximation of its premining state, the Western Region Award goes to Cloud Peak Energy’s Cordero Rojo Mine.
Mid-Continent Regional Award Winner: Vigo Coal Company, Red Brush Mine, IN
Vigo Coal Company saw an opportunity to make money mining coal while also carrying out an innovative reclamation of old pre-SMCRA mining pits. The 193 acre site began production in 2008, and eventually supplied more than 700 thousand tons of coal for power generation.
By utilizing a hybrid method of highwall mining and then trucks and shovels to obtain the first seam, and then move the spoil to the previously abandoned pits, the company was able to clear two hurdles with one jump.
The company cleared the highwall hazard it created while producing the coal, then filled the pits in with the spoil generated in that process. When the company moved to a second seam, it used the spoil there to eliminate extreme slopes that existed onsite.
In both cases, the company segregated soils from the production areas and then added in supplemental soils for planting. The company used a low pressure bulldozer to prevent compaction of the targeted 48 inch root zone for new planting. Then, based on the recommendations of a soil consultant, it tested the soils for pH, organic matter, catalytic exchange and fertility.
After planting the initial ground cover of rye, orchard grass, clover and other vegetation, the company diversified into other species including decoratives such as aster, coneflower and primrose, and then warm weather grass mixtures. Finally, with the solid foundation set, the company planted oak, walnut and hickory trees, some bald cypress, birch and dogwoods. And most especially, 450 American Chestnut seedlings to help reintroduce the threatened tree species.
More than two years later, the tree survival rates are about 95%, and onsite water is near neutral in pH, acidity is low, and suspended solids are near premining levels. Which is why the judges selected VIGO Coal’s Red Brush Mine as its Mid-Continent Award winner for 2015.
Appalachian Regional Award Winner: Paramont Coal Company, Hawk's Nest Mine, VA
Paramont Coal Company leaves behind a legacy of a road well-traveled. Mining began at the site in 2004, in which almost 1200 acres were disturbed and nearly 1100 are now reclaimed. The site is unique in that it the permit was approved with multiple post mining land uses including agriculture, unmanaged forest land, and public use, but also industrial gas line development. That meant oversight from multiple local, state and Federal agencies.
The site was also home to about 17-thousand feet of pre-SMCRA abandoned highwalls over 134 acres, all of which would need to be addressed. Working as contemporaneously as possible in each mining segment, the company flattened out huge swaths of land that was previously unusable. While doing so, the company built a network of connector roads to handle the coal and the spoils – but did so with a design.
The connector roads also provided even more access for reclamation. Over several years, the company restored about 8500 feet of linear stream channel, incorporating natural stream restoration techniques with pools and riffles and native riparian vegetation.
The company hosted several Arbor Day activities, welcoming sixth grade students from across the county to help with tree planting. Today, the county is developing new residential areas, and with them, recreational facilities. Before mining occurred, the county had little usable land in the area and now about 1500 acres with tennis courts, a track, baseketball gym, horse rings, and an extensive playground.
But the most lasting legacy from the project is the connection to a larger road – one that the county hopes will lead to increased development, a diversified economy, and possibly even tourism tied to another natural resource – the reintroduction of elk herds in the area.
The development of a critical road system lead to the National Award for Paramont Coal Company’s Hawk’s Nest Mine in Buchanan, Virginia.