On March 11, 2019, it was announced by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Congressman Morgan Griffiththat 10 coal mine reclamation and community revitalization projects in southwest Virginia‘s Russell and Wise counties will receive new funding from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy. The grants come through congressional funding for the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) Pilot Program.
“These federal funds will assist Southwest Virginia in redeveloping and repurposing lands for new uses,” said Congressman Griffith. “The cleanup and new uses of the sites will create jobs, draw visitors, and enhance the quality of life. Reclamation will usher in new opportunities for our citizens and communities. I was pleased to spearhead the inclusion of Virginia in this federal program.”
The projects are located on historic mining sites and include safety and environmental improvements to the Southwest Virginia communities where they are located.
“This grant program will provide Southwest Virginia with a range of unique and valuable economic development opportunities,” said Governor Northam. “These projects will support important infrastructure improvements, increased tourism, and manufacturing growth in addition to bringing a first-of-its-kind solar project for the region.”
Russell County and the Dante Community Association will receive $269,000 for a community revitalization project that includes development of multi-use trails to connect downtown Dante to other nearby communities and recreation areas, and the sealing of two open mine portals.
In Wise County, the Mineral Gap Data Center and Sun Tribe Solar will receive $500,000 for a 3.46-megawatt solar installation which will be used to power the data center and remediate old coal mine features near the solar project site.
“We are elated to have been selected for this grant. Every dollar that we receive builds hope, which is necessary to keep a volunteer-driven community motivated and advancing,” said Carla Glass, Chair of the Dante Community Association. The development of the multi-use trails in Dante are intended to support the community’s vision of attracting sports enthusiasts and other tourists to the area and motivate local entrepreneurs to locate new, profitable ventures in Dante.
Developers for the Wise County solar project estimate that the annual land lease as well as annual site operations and maintenance activities will infuse more than $1 million into the Wise County Industrial Development Authority and support local contractors over the solar project’s 35-year life span.
“We know that solar can succeed when projects are built in partnership with local stakeholders in both the public and private sectors, and this funding from Virginia’s Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy shows the strength of the partners we’ve found in the teams at the Wise County IDA and Mineral Gap Data Centers,” said Taylor Brown, Chief Technical Officer of Sun Tribe Solar.
March Silverstein, spokesperson for Mineral Gap, said the company envisions this as “just the beginning” of solar energy development in Southwest Virginia. “Leveraging renewable solar power to create new jobs and long-term economic opportunity for the people and businesses of this region is the perfect way to build on Southwestern Virginia’s legacy of energy production, and to honor the men and women who are working to strengthen Appalachian communities by focusing on a sustainable, eco-friendly, prosperous future.”
The announcement was applauded by the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition, a regional coalition that facilitates efforts to ensure that AML Pilot funds and other coal-impacted land reclamation funds are used responsibly for projects that truly help lift up struggling communities while healing the land.
The funded projects are:
- Wise County, Appalachian Homestead, a unique community offering property rights through community based sustainable farming: $1,600,000;
- City of Norton – Country Cabin II, a music venue along the Crooked Road will make improvements to become a year-round site: $47,420;
- Russell County – Dante Community Redevelopment, construction of a mountain bike and ATV trail: $269,000;
- Buchanan County – Ecotourism in Nature’s Wonderland, a scenic vista to view the restored elk and other wildlife: $2,254,750;
- Tazewell County – Pocahontas Exhibition Mine, enhancing the museum experience and creating a visitor tram stop for rides through the mine exhibit: $379,178;
- City of Norton – Project Intersection – an industrial site development aimed at attracting new manufacturing businesses: $1,782,685;
- Wise County – Solar Value, a large solar project, providing renewable energy to an industrial park tenant, the Mineral Gap Data Center: $500,000;
- Dickenson County – Splashdam Waterline Extension, a public water expansion project will improve the quality of life for rural residents affected by historic mining: $356,500;
- Russell County – Project Reclaim, an industrial site development aimed at recruiting new business: $1,645,340;
- Wise County – Enhancing the Mountain View Trail System, will improve ATV trail between St. Paul and Coeburn: $222,000.
“We are excited for the local communities in Southwest Virginia who have worked tirelessly on these innovative reclamation projects, and we look forward to supporting their work as they implement their projects,” said Adam Wells, Regional Director of Community and Economic Development for Appalachian Voices, a member group of the coalition. “These two projects are excellent examples of innovative, community-driven reclamation that can be developed through dedicated reclamation funds.”
Virginia received grant dollars to develop AML sites through an amendment to the Federal Omnibus Funding Bill passed in May 2018. The amendment provided $10 million each to Virginia, Ohio, and Alabama, in addition to funding for Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania in the underlying bill.
“The AML Pilot projects meet the top three priorities of DMME—safety, the environment, and economic development,” said DMME Director John Warren. “Not only do we get safety improvements through the reclamation of legacy mining features, we enhance an area of the state with projects that offer new opportunity across a range of economic sectors.”
The projects must still undergo a review from the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) prior to official award. DMME received $10 million phase one funding in 2017 and worked with an advisory council to select five economic development projects.
Photo of the Pocahontas Exhibition Mine courtesy of Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy.