As utility companies all over the U.S. transition to cleaner-burning, lower-cost alternative fuels, coal mines are shutting down, leaving entire communities to struggle in their wake. But one Fishers-based company is on a mission to breathe life back into a former mine in Greene County. Land Betterment Corp. is in the process of transforming the site into a “farm-to-bottle” craft distillery.
In the mid-19th Century, the Wabash Valley was booming with “black gold.” But while coal remains king in Indiana, it’s not a question of if, but when, Hoosier mines are permanently shuttered, like the Landree Mine in Jasonville.
“This mine alone provided over 100 jobs,” said Mark Jensen, executive chairman of Land Betterment. “The number of coal mines that have went bankrupt in the last three years and the number of people that have lost jobs – what we wanted to do is bring a real solution to a real problem.”
The solution Land Betterment came up with was the craft distillery on the 22-acre site, which they acquired a year ago from a defunct New York hedge fund.
“You’re supposed to do environmental cleanup as you mine coal. You have potential for acid water in the downstreams. You have affected wildlife and more importantly, the community can never use the property again,” said Land Betterment President Kirk Taylor. “When they walked away, not only was there post-mining cleanup needed, there was five years of excess debris that we’ve got to go through.”
Taylor says the company wants to not only fix the environmental problems at the site, but also the employment and tax base problems caused by the mine’s closure.
Former coal miners are already chomping at the bit. Joe Wright spent a decade mining at the site and is grateful for the opportunity to take part in the redevelopment project.
“(The closure) was definitely a downturn for the community, but hopefully this project will bring them back and, you know, it’s different jobs, but it’s still jobs,” said Wright. “It’ll continue my employment, so that’s good for me and my family.”
Taylor says bringing former coal miners on board at the distillery has its own benefits.
“Not every community has the type of product that fits that industry,” said Taylor. “Think about a former coal miner. They are great at troubleshooting, electrical circuitry, heavy machinery; a distillery is not that different.”
Jensen says they expect to have the environmental remediation complete within the next four months. Coal Craft Spirits is then expected to open sometime next year.
“We want the community to support itself, foster new innovation and new businesses and make folks proud again for their local communities and know that they can make a better life for themselves and their families right where they live,” said Taylor.
Last April, Land Betterment announced that another portion of the mine property will be used by Texas-based Kodiak Metals Recycling to recycle retired coal railcars and old coal mine infrastructure at the site.