In November, we joined a coalition of Central Appalachian groups in the release of a report highlighting 20 innovative projects that would clean up abandoned coal mine lands and give them new life as sustainable agriculture businesses, solar farms or other economic ventures. The report, Many Voices, Many Solutions: Innovative Mine Reclamation in Central Appalachia, provides economic impact data on the projects, which can be adapted and replicated across the region.
Communities in Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia are saddled with thousands of coal-impacted sites that were abandoned and never cleaned up and which now pose threats to public health and impede local economic growth. Local leaders and entrepreneurs are working to repurpose these damaged lands for economic solutions specific to each location’s context.
The report highlights five sites in each of the four states that represent prime opportunities for a variety of funding streams, including existing federal sources and the draft RECLAIM Act, which is awaiting a vote in Congress.
Examples include: an affordable green-energy subdivision near abandoned mine lands in Hazard, Ky., a facility in Corning, Ohio, that uses acid mine drainage to produce paint pigment, an outdoor adventure resort on a reclaimed highwall mining site in Dickenson County, Va., and a mixed agriculture and renewable energy project on a former strip mine in Boone County, W.Va.
The report was authored by the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition, which seeks to spur mine reclamation projects throughout Central Appalachia that are responsive to community needs and that accelerate the growth of new, sustainable economic sectors.
The coalition consists of lead organizations in four states — Appalachian Voices in Virginia, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center in Kentucky, Coalfield Development Corporation in West Virginia, and Rural Action in Ohio — and a regional technical expert, Downstream Strategies, based in West Virginia.
“This report marks an important step as Appalachian citizens continue to re-imagine and work toward a future of sustainable and healthy local economies, where young people can find meaningful work and stay to raise their own families,” says Adam Wells, regional director of community and economic development with Appalachian Voices.
Past efforts to reuse old mine sites have generated sparse lasting economic activity. The “if you build it, they will come” industrial parks and golf courses now largely sit empty and unused. The 166 Appalachian counties within the project area represent a population of more than 5.7 million people, nearly 40 percent of whom live in counties categorized by the Appalachian Regional Commission as at-risk or distressed based on unemployment, income and poverty factors.
To break free from this unsuccessful approach to coal site reclamation, the coalition established six guiding principles to identify optimal repurposing projects, including ensuring they are appropriate to the place in which they are occurring, that they include non-traditional stakeholders in decision-making, and that they are environmentally sustainable and financially viable long-term.