Many criticize moutaintop mining. Here is a “Readers-Digest” version of a story on beneficial use of post-mountain-top mining:
A short drive up a side road through dense Appalachian forest ends at a vast, flat clearing where a mountaintop used to be. The peak that stood for an eon is gone, replaced by a giant recreation area that was built after a coal company scraped away thousands of tons of earth, lowering the mountain by 200 feet. Coal industry supporters say the Knott County Sportsplex in eastern Kentucky is one of many examples of economic opportunity created by strip mining techniques that include the often-vilified method known as mountaintop removal. But data obtained by The Associated Press indicates that just a small percentage of the leveled Appalachian mountain landscape has been transformed into new developments such as businesses, prisons, golf courses and subdivisions.
“A lot of people through the years ask why Appalachia is so poor. One of the biggest reasons is we were land poor — we didn’t have any place to build,” the Floyd County Democrat said. The West Virginia Department of Commerce issued a press release earlier this month that said developments on former mining sites have created more than 13,000 jobs in 12 counties.
Of the more than 345,700 acres of mining lands in eastern Kentucky that have been approved for a specific post-mining purpose, just over 6,300 acres, or about 1.8 percent, have been designated for “commercial,” “industrial” or “residential” developments, according to data provided by the state Department of Natural Resources. The figures date back to 1999, but could include some land permitted before that time, officials said.
Since October 2001, West Virginia has granted 218 surface mining permits, covering 84,793 acres. Of that acreage, 6,035 acres, or about 7 percent, have been designated for industrial/commercial, public service or residential development, according to data provided by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Mining Reclamation. The developed land includes an athletic complex, livestock fields and a subdivision.
Industry supporters also said not all former mining sites are prime for development, especially on the often remote and rural terrain of Appalachia. “The further you get away from a community or an infrastructure where you have gas and water and sewer lines, you can’t develop out in the middle of nowhere without the proper utility structure,” said Phil Osborne, Kentucky executive director of the Federation for American Coal, Energy and Security, known as FACES of Coal. Osborne said there are other economic uses for post-mining lands, such as grazing land for cattle, or ATV or other recreation trails.
Stumbo’s home in Prestonsburg stands near the manicured, 18-hole Stone Crest Golf Course, also built on top of a reclaimed mine. It’s the same golf course where coal supporters posted a sign in July mocking actress Ashley Judd for her outspoken opposition to mountaintop mining. About 20 miles northeast of the course is the Big Sandy Regional Airport, which was built after the removal of a 10-foot high coal seam. In mid-August, a private jet owned by Massey Energy, a company with massive mining operations in Kentucky and West Virginia, was docked on the runway near an airport sign that reads “Made Possible By Coal Reclamation.” The airport’s manager, Gary Cox, said the general aviation facility that handles mostly coal industry-related private aircraft and a nearby state prison with 400 employees wouldn’t have been built if mining companies hadn’t flattened the hills.
Osborne says post-mining lands have also provided places for elk herds to roam in eastern Kentucky. The animals were reintroduced in 1997 after being gone from the state for 150 years. State officials say they now number 11,000.
Hamilton said mining critics should consider the jobs created when mines are operating, long before the land gets developed for other uses. “The part of that whole story that doesn’t really get highlighted is that however long that mining operation existed … that company is providing gainful employment, and just creating employment opportunities for workers to provide for their families for years,” Hamilton said.
Just goes to show that some mines can be closed and the land put to sustainable use thereafter. Indeed the topography is different, and not everybody can afford to fly a new plane or play golf. Still I find this an encouraging story. Let me know if you think otherwise.