On January 24, 2022, Pennsylvania announced funding for environmental restoration projects focused on economic revitalization and community redevelopment at abandoned mine land (AML) locations across the state. This year, $25 million will be made available for reclamation projects with economic recovery components.
“These newly approved projects will bring economic opportunity and activity to Pennsylvania, and eliminate dangerous environmental scars left over from Pennsylvania’s mining history,” said Governor Tom Wolf.
“Removing the dangerous hazards from these sites also removes barriers to productive use. These sites will become hiking trails, farm fields, and solar farms – a new future for sites still marred from past use,” he added.
The 2020 Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization (AMLER) Program (formerly known as the AML Pilot Program) will provide an additional $25 million of U.S. Treasury funds for Pennsylvania’s AML program. First authorized by Congress under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (Public Law 116-94) the funds are to be used “to accelerate the remediation of AML sites with economic and community development end uses.” This is the fifth year Pennsylvania has received funding from the AMLER Program.
Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell was joined by Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to announce the investment at an abandoned mine in Luzerne County.
“This program demonstrates that investments in environmental cleanup can have strong economic benefits to communities, creating new opportunities for recreation, land reuse, and clean energy development,” said McDonnell. “There has been $130 million invested into projects like these in partnership with local governments, other state agencies and private companies and these investments are paying dividends for the communities and environment of Pennsylvania.”
The Federal Office of Surface Mine Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) recently approved the following projects:
Coal Castle Revitalization
A high priority water-filled pit, an 11-acre abandoned refuse pile and a 43-acre spoil area will be regraded on site to eliminate health and safety hazards. A DEP-approved alkaline material will be added to neutralize acidity and re-establish vegetation. The reclaimed areas will be regraded and compacted to suit the property owner’s plans to build an approximate 10,000 square foot campground office and welcome center and additional camping facilities. The proposed facilities will attract hundreds of visitors of Famous Reading Outdoors, offering an extreme, off-road trail riding experience. Temporary construction jobs will be created through construction of the facility and upon completion of the project an estimated 10-20 full and parttime jobs will be created. The primary project partners are Famous Reading Outdoors, the property owner of the AML site, and New Castle Township.
Forks Church North
Reclamation of two dangerous highwalls at a combined length of 180 linear feet by backfilling the highwalls using the adjacent five acres of mine spoil to eliminate the health and safety hazards. A two-acre refuse pile will also be reclaimed. A DEP-approved alkaline material may be added to the refuse during backfill to neutralize the soil acidity and the reclaimed area will be revegetated. Multiple hazardous abandoned mine structures on the AML site will be demolished and also used in backfilling the highwalls. The project site is surrounded by a 90-lot seasonal, family-friendly campground and once reclaimed will be used for recreational and camping purposes. The primary project partner is the property owner of the AML site and owner of the campground.
Reclamation of a 1,700-foot dangerous highwall by using the adjacent 20-acre spoil area to backfill the highwall and eliminate the health and safety hazards. Once reclaimed the site will be repurposed for agricultural purposes to increase hay production. A DEP-approved alkaline material may be added to the spoil during backfill to neutralize the soil acidity to provide a more suitable pH required for agricultural purposes. Hay production will increase by approximately 42% to provide more local feed for cattle in the area, in turn keeping local beef prices down. The primary project partner is the property owner farming the property adjacent to the AML site.
Reclamation of a 2,500 linear foot dangerous highwall by backfilling with the adjacent 19-acre spoil area to eliminate the health and safety hazards. A seven-acre refuse pile will also be reclaimed. A DEP-approved alkaline material may be added to the refuse during backfill to neutralize the soil acidity and the reclaimed area will be revegetated. The existing AML conditions are adjacent to property owned by the Redbank Valley Trails Association where the association possesses a 100-foot right-of-way for another section of the abandoned rail spur currently being improved and maintained by volunteers as an all-season trail. Portions of the reclaimed AML areas will be repurposed as a multi-use green space to be utilized by visitors of the trail and an existing parking lot is proposed to be resurfaced as part of the AML project to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility guidelines. The primary project partners are Redbank Valley Trails Association and the property owner of the AML site.
Reprocessing approximately 140,000 tons of high British Thermal Unit (BTU) coal refuse from a 10-acre 240,000-ton abandoned coal refuse pile. The high BTU material will be used at a local co-generation facility. The remaining low BTU value refuse will be regraded on site to eliminate the health and safety hazards and to improve the watershed environment. A DEP-approved alkaline material will be added to neutralize acidity and re-establish vegetation. The current condition of the refuse pile is unstable and erodes acidic sediment into Wilson Run causing significant AMD. The watershed improvement will enable a local fishery to expand and improve their current operation that has been negatively impacted by the adjacent acidic refuse pile. The primary project partners are the Thompsontown Cooperative Trout Nursery and the property owner of the AML site.
Reclamation of five dangerous highwalls, totaling 6,000 linear feet, through backfilling the highwalls with an adjacent 16-acre spoil area will eliminate health and safety hazards and improve the watershed environment. Portions of the proposed reclaimed areas will be repurposed as two public parking areas to enhance visitor access to multi-purpose recreational trails used for public hunting within the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (PA-DCNR) Moshannon State Forest. The primary project partner is the PA-DCNR.
State Game Lands 332
Reclamation of two dangerous highwalls, totaling 5,800 linear feet, through backfilling the highwall with the adjacent 79-acres of combined mine spoil and refuse materials to eliminate the health and safety hazards. Once reclaimed the site will be repurposed and added to an adjacent 21-acre area to increase and improve approximately 100 acres of contiguous state game lands. A DEP-approved alkaline material may be added to the spoil during backfill to neutralize the soil acidity and the reclaimed area will be revegetated with native species to support wildlife. State Game Land 332 hosts many visitors from the Greater Pittsburgh Region and the improved 100-acre area will be immediately available for recreational hunting. The 2,500 linear foot construction access road will be repurposed for use by disabled sportspersons. On site acid mine drainage (AMD) will also be addressed with the design and installation of two passive AMD treatment systems. The primary project partners are the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Aultman Watershed Association for Restoring the Environment.
Blacklick Creek AMD Treatment Plant (Indiana and Cambria Counties)
Construction of an active AMD treatment facility will control, divert, and treat three major sources of AMD to improve the watershed environment. Up to a combined 7.2 million gallons per day of AMD from the Commercial No. 16 (Red Mill), Vinton No. 6, and Wehrum mine discharges will be treated and discharged to the Blacklick Creek just west of Vintondale, PA. Benefits of the project include enhancements to accessing the existing Ghost Town Trail, cleanup of 25 miles of stream of the Blacklick to the confluence of Two Lick Creek, and increased opportunities for recreational fishing and boating. Funding for the project will also be provided by the Pennsylvania Capital Budget Act 41 of 2008 and Act 82 of 2010. The primary project partners are the Indiana County Conservation District, Indiana County, Blacklick Creek Watershed Association, Cambria County Conservation District, Cambria County Conservation and Recreation Authority, and the C&I Trail Council.
Mocanaqua AML Recreation Access
Reclamation of a 165 linear foot dangerous highwall, a one-acre spoil area, several mining pits, industrial/residential waste, and ten mine openings to eliminate the health and safety hazards. The reclaimed areas will be repurposed for public parking areas to accommodate at least 30 cars for visitors of the state forest and game lands and gravel resurfacing improvements of an existing 2,400 linear foot access road will be performed along with the installation of historic information kiosks. The primary project partners are the PA-DCNR, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and Earth Conservancy.
Audenried Coal to Solar – Phase 1
Reclamation of 185 acres of AML comprised of mine refuse, mining pits, multiple hazardous abandoned mine structures, and approximately 2.5 million yards of mine spoil to eliminate the health and safety hazards. The reclaimed area will be repurposed by Teichos Energy, LLC. to accommodate construction of their first of two phases of a utility scale solar photovoltaic facility. A future, Phase 2 project is planned to reclaim similar AML features covering an additional 125 acres and restoration of stream segments of Hunky Dory Creek. Once the second phase is completed, Teichos Energy estimates that the facility will support 150-300 fulltime jobs directly related to the solar construction and 6-8 permanent jobs related to facility operations and maintenance of the solar panels. The primary project partners are Teichos Energy, LLC, and the property owner of the AML site.
D&L Trail Wilkes-Barre Mountain – Phase 2
Reclamation of a nearby abandoned mine opening through installing a bat friendly gate and backfilling pits situated immediately adjacent to the D&L Trail by utilizing onsite and borrowed material will eliminate the health and safety hazards. A 2.3-mile trail will be constructed and traverse through the Pinchot State Forest along an abandoned railroad bed and would begin where the existing Wilkes-Barre Mountain Section (Phase 1) trail ends about one mile from the PA-DCNR’s Seven Tubs Recreation Area and would end near Laurel Run Park on East Northampton Street, Wilkes-Barre. The primary project partners are North Branch Land Trust and the PA-DCNR.
Reclamation of a five-acre abandoned refuse pile by regrading the pile on site to eliminate the health and safety hazards. A DEP-approved alkaline amendment will be added to neutralize acidity and re-establish vegetation. Additionally, four hazardous abandoned mine structures will be demolished and buried onsite. The regrading will allow the property owner to develop a storage facility business that will support the surrounding community, which is heavily populated with many housing developments. The primary project partner is the property owner of the AML site.
Reclamation and regrade of a seven-acre abandoned refuse pile on site and restoration of a two-tenths mile clogged stream segment of Little Pike Run to eliminate health and safety hazards. Refuse material will be moved away from the stream and will be regraded on site into a stable configuration. A DEP-approved alkaline material may be added to the refuse during backfill to neutralize the soil acidity and the reclaimed area will be revegetated. Once the area is revegetated, the property owner intends to divide the parcel and donate three to four acres to West Pike Run Township for recreational green space to be maintained by the Township. The site access road installed during reclamation will be converted into a walking path. The primary project partner is the property owner of the AML site and West Pike Run Township.
Photo of abandoned mine in Blair County, Pennsylvania courtesy of State of Pennsylvania.