Iowa has more that 12,000 acres of abandoned coal sites that were mined prior to 1977 and are eligible to be reclaimed under Title IV of the Federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (Public Law 95-87). The Division was granted primacy for its Abandoned Mined Lands (AML) Program in 1983 by the Secretary of Interior and works cooperatively with the U.S. Office of Surface Mining (OSM).
While abandoned coal sites may include processing facilities, waste banks, and hoisting shafts from old underground mines, most are former surface mines where the material lying above the coal was removed to extract the coal, without any provision for reclamation following mining. Some 230 Iowa sites, located mostly in the southeastern part of the state, are part of an inventory maintained jointly by the Division and OSM.
The Division receives funding annually to reclaim eligible sites selected from this inventory. Criteria for ranking sites are based on environmental problems as well as potential hazards to public health, safety, and general welfare. The inventory is continually updated to add more site-specific information and to reflect the elimination of problem areas as a result of project completions.
The AML staff develops potential projects by preparing a site inventory, an environmental assessment, and a reclamation design prior to seeking grant funds for construction. Construction solutions eliminate dangerous highwalls, acid mine drainage, clogged streams, and hazardous water bodies. Ridges of acid-forming shale are also graded and vegetated. Priority is given to eliminating health and safety hazards, restoring impacted land and water resources, and eliminatingoff-site environmental impacts.
Completed projects provide improved water and air quality and reduce sediment deposition and clogging of streams off-site. The AML program works with landowners in the design and development of a reclamation plan that will provide a suitable land use following completion of the project. While the sites remain fragile, landowners see their property returned to a manageable condition that allows an economic return or some productive or beneficial use. Potential liability from attractive nuisances and unwanted trespass is also reduced or eliminated. Reclaimed sites function as pasture, hayland, recreational areas, wildlife habitat, and wetlands.
Both private and public landowners are eligible participants. Working partners include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State Office of Historical Preservation, and other federal, state, and local agencies. A strong, working relationship with private consulting engineering and design firms has been key to the program’s continued success.
For additional information, visit the following OSM Mid-Continent Regional Coordinating Center web site: www.mcrcc.osmre.gov.