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2012 Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Award Winners

The Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Awards recognize outstanding abandoned mine land reclamation in the United States and showcase exemplary reclamation techniques.

Photo of workers on a mountainside

Small Project Award Winner Maclean 3 Abandoned Mine Reclamation Project - Workers on a steep-slope drilling pad as part of the effort to extinguish the Maclean mine fire.

The 2012 Abandoned Mine Reclamation Awards will recognize the innovations and on-the-ground results achieved in Kentucky, Illinois, Montana, Utah, and Pennsylvania. The awards recognize the best regional achievements with Regional awards, the best single Small Project Award, and a single National Award winner.

OSMRE Director Joe Pizarchik provided the keynote address and presented the awards at a banquet in Des Moines, IA, as part of the National Association of Abandoned Mine Land Programs conference, September 23-26.

Read the OSMRE Press Release about the 2012 AML Awards.

The winners of the 2012 Abandoned Mine Reclamation Awards.

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  • Appalachian Regionalal Award Winner: Lower Rock Creek Watershed Restoration Project, McCreary County, Kentucky

    • For carrying out a decade-long project with multiple locations and phases, and returning the land to a use beneficial to humans and wildlife, the 2012 Appalachian Regional Award was presented to the Lower Rock Creek Watershed Restoration Project, McCreary County, Kentucky.

      Map of the project area

      Map of the project area

      The project covered four locations in Kentucky and Tennessee. Lower Rock Creek stretches from Kentucky's Pickett State Park, through the Daniel Boone National Forest, and into the Big South National Recreation area. The watershed is a prime location for fishing, hunting, hiking, backpacking, and camping and hosts thousands of people each year. Rock Creek is also home to more than 40 portals leading to hundred year old underground mines, and eight mine refuse dumps. Those killed aquatic life and limited the fresh water available for land animals. Rock Creek was the largest contributor of acid mine drainage to the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River until recently.

      The McCreary project required a ten year commitment among four state agencies, eight Federal agencies, and a non-profit outdoor advocacy group to clean up the damage from acid mine drainage that rendered several miles of Lower Rock Creek sterile of aquatic life.

      At the mouth of White Oak Creek, project managers stopped dosing the water with crushed limestone sand each month. To replace it, they installed six miles of open limestone rock channels, which reduce the stream’s PH and provides a long term source of alkalinity.

      At the upper Paint Cliff site, managers created a series of ponds to treat water seeping from a collapsed mine entry on the hillside, which filled the site with acidic waste and metal. The pond system uses organic material to strip oxygen from the liquid, which then promotes sulfide production, which in turn removes metals and increases the water’s alkalinity.

      On lower Rock Creek, the team removed 20-thousand cubic yards of acidic waste from the stream bank, then planted trees and fast growing grasses. In other areas, they graded over contaminated land, treated it with lime, and introduced new vegetation.

      The results speak for themselves. At Robert’s Hollow, average PH rose from 3.1 to 5.8 after the project was completed. The change is mirrored at White Oak Creek, Paint Cliff and Lower Rock Creek. Through the entire system, the project reduced the monthly acidic load in the water by 99%. As a result, fish and other aquatic life and land-borne animals have returned to lower Rock Creek and White Oak Creek, and so have land borne animals.

      Link to Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, Department for Natural Resources, Division of Abandoned Mine Lands Website at

      Photo of a limestone channel

      An example of the limestone channels created to help reduce PH levels in the watershed.

      Photo of workers, stream bank where acidic waste was removed

      A stream bank where workers removed acidic waste that leached into the water.

      Fisherman holds a small trout at Lower Rock Creek

      Fish and other wildlife have returned to the Lower Rock Creek Watershed.

  • Mid-Continent Regional Award Winner: I-72 Piers 3 Sag Subsidence Emergency, Sangamon County, Illinois

    • For quickly responding to an emerging threat, working through difficult conditions, and successfully stopping ongoing subsidence, the 2012 Mid-Continent Regional Award was presented to the I-72 Piers 3 Sag Subsidence Emergency Project in Sangamon County, Illinois

      This project not only responded to a life-threatening emergency situation, but proved for the first time that it is possible to stop mine subsidence while it is happening. The State of Illinois discovered that two heavily traveled interstate bridges were subsiding, or slowly sinking, because of the collapse of two underground mines about 200 feet below the surface. The problem threatened both bridges structural integrity and the lives of thousands of people traveling on the road every day.

      Photo of an underground mine map

      A map of the old underground coal mines. The red circles show where subsidence (or, sagging) was happening underground.

      In late November 2010, the Illinois Department of Transportation performed a routine inspection of the bridges on Interstate-72, a major east-west artery through the heart of Illinois, and discovered a problem with the bridges over the Sangamon River - tire skid marks in several unexpected places. Starting in 1974, about 15,000 cars each day crossed these 800 foot spans with few problems.

      In December, state AML officials began 24 hour monitoring of the bridges, collected data, and confirmed the suspicion that three ongoing mine subsidences - one at each end of the bridges and one in the middle - were causing land under the bridges to sag. They determined the cause of the subsidence were two underground room and pillar mines last operated in 1931 and 1951, about 200 feet down. In turn, the subsidence caused warping and damage to parts of the bridge pier supports. A state engineer warned that because of their unique design characteristics, the bridges could not handle uneven sagging from the sinking ground, and said failing to act could lead to the loss of one or both bridges, and of human life. The state moved quickly to address those threats.

      Working in bitter subzero temperatures and heavy snowfall, the state drilled 40 boreholes in mid-January, and began filling the old mines with grout in March 2011. A month later, despite harsh weather, flooding, related delays, the constant fear of further subsidence, and the possibility of the bridges collapsing, the grouting was completed. The state identified the problem, contracted for the repair work, and completed grouting to stop the sinking in slightly over four months.

      The emergency project was the first of its kind and provided a key finding: the Sangamon repair indicates that stopping an active mine subsidence incident while it is happening is technically feasible.

      Visit the Illinois Department of Natural Resources

      Photo of bridges over a river

      The twin 800-foot Interstate 72 bridges over the Sangamon River in Illinois.

      Photo of skid marks on a bridge

      Skid marks from cars momentarily becoming airborne due to the sinking of the bridges.

      Photo of a construction worker during extremely cold conditions

      Workers endured long shifts in bitterly cold conditions, during flood stages on the river, and also faced the possibility of the bridges collapsing due to the ongoing subsidence.

  • Western Regional Award Winner: Spring Meadow Lake Abandoned Mine Reclamation Project, Helena, Lewis and Clark County, Montana

    • The Western Region AML Reclamation Award was presented to the Spring Meadow Lake Abandoned Mine Reclamation Project in Helena, Lewis and Clark County, MT.

      In 2003 an undergraduate college student working on his senior thesis at Carroll College in Helena discovered that a well-known and heavily utilized state park in Helena, Montana was contaminated with extremely high lead and arsenic levels.

      Spring Meadow Lake State Park hosts about 85,000 people each year to swim, fish, canoe, picnic and play.

      Photo showing mine waste from mineral processing.

      The project removed waste from gold, silver, zinc and manganese processing dating from 1910 to 1920. The contaminated soil contained high levels of lead and arsenic which leached into the nearby lake.

      Historic records indicated the man-made lake was a hardrock milling site prior to World War I. Between 1912 and 1920, it processed gold, silver, zinc and manganese ore from all over the state - ore from mines that are now listed on the EPA's Superfund list. State AML officials confirmed the student's findings that pollutants from those milled ores contaminated the park area.

      Testing indicated arsenic levels in the lake exceeded drinking water standards by 20 times the limit, and high levels of heavy metals. Fortunately, the recreational beach areas were not contaminated, and fish and aquatic insects were not bio-accumulating heavy metals. The state reassessed its mine site reclamation priority list; Spring Meadow rose to the top by a large margin due to the volume and toxicity of the wastes at the site.

      Cleaning up the park required a two-pronged approach. Some of the soil was contaminated so lightly that it could be transported to a lower-level disposal site in Montana. Other soil and sediment, however, was so badly contaminated it would require heavier treatment or transport out of state. The team excavated about nine acres of lightly contaminated soil at a depth of 3 feet. They removed 65,000 tons, which was treated and hauled away to an approved disposal site.

      To address the heavier contaminated soil, workers mixed it into Portland cement, which trapped the heavy metals and prevented leaching. This allowed the final product to be sent to the lower-level disposal site. Workers then backfilled the area with replacement soil and rock, then graded, seeded, and planted about 13 acres. Finally, the state redeveloped the old milling structures and named it the Montana Outdoor Discovery Center.

      Visit the Montana Department of Environmental Quality Abandoned Mine Lands Website at

      Photo showing removal of contaminated sediments.

      Workers removing contaminated soil from the East Arm of Spring Meadow Lake.

      Photo of reclaimed park land with lake.

      Spring Meadow Lake State Park today, where the contaminated soil was removed.

      Montana Outdoor Discovery Center.

      The state converted the old ore milling site, including some of the old structures, into the new Montana Outdoor Discovery Center, which provides visitors with opportunities to learn about wildlife and nature.

  • Small Project Award Winner: Maclean 3 Abandoned Mine Reclamation Project, Carbon County, Utah

    • For defeating a 60 year old coal fire, for developing new techniques to fight the fires, and for the difficulty involved in accomplishing the goal, the Small Project Award was presented to the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program, Utah Division of Oil, Gas & Mining, Salt Lake City Utah.

      Photo of workers on a mountainside

      Workers on a steep-slope drilling pad as part of the effort to extinguish the Maclean mine fire.

      Utah’s Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program worked for more than 20 years to extinguish an underground mine fire that ignited in 1945. Putting out the 67-year old fire, which migrated underground, required the use of new mapping technologies as well as creating new chemical fire retardants, while working on extremely steep slopes.

      The mine in question began operating in 1919, then closed in 1945, when the underground fire ignited. By the time the state program came into existence in the 1980’s, what was thought to be one fire had spread into several, with fissures, crevices, and landslides allowing oxygen in, and multiple seams of coal were burning. A full acre of land had slumped because the fire had burned away underlying coal. In addition to threatening air quality, the fire created several public safety hazards.

      The ground surface near the fire was prone to caving underfoot; some crevices were large enough to swallow a person or livestock. The fire also threatened to ignite forests above ground. Even though the state reclaimed the area in the mid-80’s, sealing mine portals and burying coal refuse piles, the fire raged on.

      One of the biggest challenges was determining the exact location of the fires. By 2010, foot wide cracks appeared on the mountainside about 170 feet above the old mine site. Using signs on the surface proved unreliable, even using infrared photography. To determine the location, project managers drilled dozens of boreholes and modeled the data in three dimensions, then overlaid the data on traditional geologic and mine working maps. The fire affected an area that covered 400 vertical feet on very steep slopes. Creating work pads to drill the boreholes and build seals were difficult.

      In spite of these obstacles, on May 31st, the Utah Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program declared the Maclean fire officially extinguished after three tries to put it out, in 1990, 1992, and then 20 years later. The difference, project managers say, was developing the skills to work in cramped, unstable high slope areas while applying state of the art, Utah-developed fire retardants into specific locations.

      Utah has about a dozen similar underground fires currently burning. The state will apply the techniques and tools developed at the Maclean fire to extinguish those fires at lower cost and in less time.

      Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program Website at

      Photo of a crevice on a Utah mountainside

      An example of the many crevices that formed as the fire migrated underground. Some cracks were large enough to swallow large animals.

      Photo of a worker on the mountainside

      Workers prepare to inject fire retardant and grout into one of the crevices.

      Workers at a drilling site on the mountainside

      Workers had little room to work while drilling the boreholes to locate the fire, and then inject fire retardant to extinguish the fire.

  • National Award Winner: The Dents Run AML/AMD Ecosystem Restoration Project, Benezette Township, Elk County, Pennsylvania

    • OSMRE’s National Award for 2012 was presented to the Dents Run AML/AMD Ecosystem Restoration Project, Benezette Township, Elk County, Pennsylvania.

      Aerial photo of the Dents Run watershed

      This undated photo shows a small portion of the 25 square mile Dents Run watershed area.

      The 25 square mile Dents Run watershed is best known for its role as a home to Pennsylvania’s elk herd and its world class trout stream. However, nine historic surface and underground coal mines dating back to the 1800s were leaching acid mine drainage so heavily into the watershed that passive treatment methods would not be effective, and active treatment would be very expensive.

      To carry out such a large project, the state asked government agencies, mining companies, watershed groups and landowners to commit funding and manpower. Eventually, about 56 percent of the project cost was underwritten by non-government sources.

      Project managers also discovered that one of the targeted areas contained both marketable coal and a huge deposit of high quality limestone – more than a million and a half tons –perfect for treating acid mine drainage. In addition, the presence of the coal and the limestone helped hold down costs, and mining both helped establish a relationship with a mining company.

      Before the project ended, the group graded 320 acres, and replanted it for the resident elk herd. They reclaimed ten highwalls, more than 30-thousand linear feet. They mined more than a half-million tons of limestone to provide alkalinity in the stream and in the reclaimed sites, moved more than 5000 cubic yards of coal waste, closed 23 old mine openings, installed five wet seals, and treated 14 AMD discharges.

      It took almost ten years, starting in October 2002, but in March, Pennsylvania declared the downstream portion of Dents Run as net alkaline for the first time in one hundred years. The incredibly large reclamation numbers tell one story.

      But it’s the return of trout – and fishermen – and the growth of Pennsylvania’s famous Elk herd that tell the most vivid tale. In March 2012, the state declared Dents Run as “net alkaline” for the first time in 100 years, enabling fish and wildlife to return and flourish.

      Link to Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation Website at

      photo of a large pile of limestone on the Dents Run site

      The state and its partners in the project, including the coal industry, environmentalists, local government and landowners, were able to keep costs down when a large deposit of limestone was discovered on the site.

      Photo of Dents Run

      Before reclamation began, the downstream portion of Dents Run was contaminated by acid mine drainage.

      Photo of elk on a hillside near Dents Run

      Pennsylvania’s elk herd has more water and a better food supply. Wildlife benefited greatly from the elimination of several coal-mine related environmental problems.

Page Last Modified/Reviewed: 5/17/17

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