ONDR granted over 10 million to repair strip mine land

Coal refuse off of Route 329. Photo by CG Science Editor Austen Verrilli.
By CG Science Editor Austen Verrilli

Last Wednesday morning, Ohio’s Council on Unreclaimed Strip Mined Lands approved a $10.34 million grant to aid the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) in repairing land in and around eastern Ohio’s abandoned coal mines.

The state council granted the money for two different abandoned coal mine land reclamation fronts. $5.93 million was approved to help construction projects and $4.41 million was approved to aid in acid mine drainage repair.

Construction projects include emptying and filling-in old mine slurry pits, repairing mine land erosion, cleaning up mine refuse piles and closing open mine entrances. The projects are typically engineered and surveyed by ODNR staff. Then, ODNR contracts out reclamation jobs or partners with mining companies and local agencies to reclaim the land.

Southeast Ohio has a high concentration of abandoned mines.  Currently, staff members have several projects mapped out for areas in Athens County, Meigs County, Hocking County and Jackson County.  These projects include sealing mine entries on Derthick Road in Athens County, restoring a stream that is flooding due to mine sediment on Route 22 in Meigs County and draining and filling in 11 ridge top mining pits in Jackson County.  The cheapest project, demolishing an old coal company building, is estimated to cost $25,000. Filling the ridge top pits is the most expensive project at approximately $1.25 million.

The abandoned mine land reclamation project has been successful in recouping over 10,000 acres of strip mined land, reforesting 5,000 acres, stabilizing 520 acres of potential land slide material and replacing 325 residential water supplies said Blake Arthur, ODNR abandoned mine land public health and safety administrator.

ODNR keeps track of mine related problems in eastern Ohio through the Abandoned Mine Land Inventory System (AMLIS).  AMLIS is updated with problem areas through citizen complaints and ODNR investigations of old mine land.  Land recovery projects are then rated based on the immanent danger they pose to people around them.

Currently, AMLIS lists 32,000 acres of abandoned strip mines, 1,300 miles of streams impacted by acid mine drainage, 135 miles of sediment clogged streams, 500 acres of coal refuse, 245 acres of pits, among other miscellaneous mine related problems said Arthur.

“Our rough cost estimates for this in our (AMLIS) inventory is about $200 million,” Arthur said adding that the number is a low estimate.

ODNR can only do land reclamation on coal mining related problems. State funded money can only go to land mined before 1972. Federally funded reclamation allows repair to deep mines functioning before 1977 and strip mines function before 1988.

Arthur said ODNR expects to see a federal grant in the neighborhood of $18.4 million approved for abandoned mine land reclamation by January of 2012. The grant has more than tripled since 2007 when the state awarded ODNR $4.9 million for the same purposes. Arthur said the additional funding created opportunity for ODNR to start on large high priority projects and bring in new staff members to tackle more land reclamation projects.

Some of the federal and state grant money comes from a severance tax coal companies pay when they sell a ton of coal. The federal government charges coal sellers 35 cents per ton for strip mined coal and 15 cents per ton of deep mined coal. Ohio charges coal sellers an additional 11 cents for strip mined coal and 10 cents for deep mined coal.

To report an abandoned mine land problem in your area contact Blake Arthur at (330)-339-2207.

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