Mine Reclamation Project Scores Federal Award

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A $6.2 million reclamation project in Pike County is receiving national recognition. The 2014 Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Award from the U.S. Department of the Interior went to an effort involving removal of a dangerous cliff and construction of a stream channel. August 5, 2014

News Release

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Reclamation has earned the federal 2014 Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Award for work at the Mill Creek Highwall in Pike County.

The honor comes from the Department of the Interior's Office of Surface Mining (OSM).

A letter from OSM director Joseph Pizarchik announcing Indiana's selection cited "...an exemplary reclamation project that emphasizes the elimination of dangerous health, safety and environmental problems resulting from abandoned mine lands... The enduring, on-the-ground results of your project are a testament to your achievement."

The project removed a dangerous highwall adjacent to a county road about a half mile north of Augusta. A highwall is a sheer ledge or cliff remaining from the removal of soils and overburden above coal seams.

In addition to eliminating a public safety hazard, the project is a first in Indiana because the State negotiated with a nearby, active coal mine operated by Triad Mining to perform the work. The original cost estimate for this project was $6.2 million, but the cooperative agreement resulted in an actual restoration cost of only $305, 000 for a savings to the State of $5.9 million.

The completed project also replaced the deteriorating county road and constructed a naturally designed stream channel as part of the reclamation process.

Division of Reclamation director Steve Weinzapfel credited his staff for the work.

"That project has been on our radar for a long time, but the sheer size of it made it cost prohibitive," Weinzapfel said. "So when this opportunity presented itself, staff jumped. There was no precedent for this type of cooperative agreement, so they had to navigate lots of hurdles in a very short timeframe. Mining operations move quickly and the window was only open for so long. To their credit, and the mine operator's, they made it work. That is a tribute to the teamwork, creativity and professionalism of this group."

The highwall was more than 4,000 feet long and 60-80 feet high, with some spots more than 100 feet high.

"The challenges were many," said field operations coordinator Marvin Ellis. "Local traffic, including school buses, used the road on top every day. It was very narrow and eroding. Visibility and sight distances were limited and rocks falling from the embankment into the pit lakes below threatened boaters and fishermen."

Ellis added that any restoration model they crafted involved borrow material from nearby sources and would potentially disturb as much as 35 acres. Under such a plan, the road would have received only a minimal upgrade.

"In addition to the construction challenges, those working on the project needed to navigate the administrative side of contracting, and meet the conditions imposed on active mining," Ellis said. "The operator needed to revise the permit to incorporate this expanded area and had to achieve all environmental and public safety standards required by the active mining operation. Any one of these processes is challenging enough. We faced all three and made it happen."

Weinzapfel pointed to members of the Reclamation team, and other cooperating partners for that effort. Those mentioned specifically included Reclamation staff members Mark Bredehoft, Jill Flachskam, Mark Stacy, Craig Wolfe (retired), and Steve Herbert (retired); Triad Mining officials Tommy Sutton and Don Arrowsmith; Pike County Commissioners; the DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife, Sugar Ridge Fish & Wildlife Area; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Newburgh Field Office; and the Indiana Department of Administration, Division of Public Works.

The DNR Division of Reclamation administers the surface coal mining laws for the State of Indiana. The Inspection and Enforcement Section permits and inspects active coal mines. The Restoration Section is responsible for eliminating public health and safety hazards and environmental degradation resulting from coal mining activities that took place prior to the enactment of the current reclamation law. All activities are funded through fees collected from active coal mining production.

For more information, call the Reclamation field office in Jasonville at (812) 665-2207; or, toll free if calling inside Indiana at 1-800-772-6463; or visit their website at dnr.IN.gov/reclamation.

Source: The Indiana Department of Natural Resources