Reclaiming Appalachia’s coal lands
This is the third of a series of blogs exploring two federal programs aimed at spurring economic development in Appalachia by repurposing old, unused coal mining sites into new, vibrant economic projects. Looking at the proposed RECLAIM Act and the existing Abandoned Mine Lands Pilot Program, we discuss the need for smart, sustainable and community-driven economic projects, and examine the ones that work, and those that don’t.
Ten community revitalization projects that will reclaim old coal mining sites in Southwest Virginia will receive $10 million in grant money. Projects range from community revitalization initiatives like multi-use trains and water infrastructure improvements to commercial-scale solar. The grants are apportioned through congressional funding for the Abandoned Mine Lands Pilot Program and will be administered by the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy.
Russell County and the Dante Community Association will receive $269,000 for a 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, a Virginia-based solar company, will receive $500,000 for a 3.46-megawatt solar installation to power the data center and for work to remediate old coal mine features near the 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 — the first of its kind in Virginia — 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 Center,” said Taylor Brown, Chief Technical Officer of Sun Tribe Solar.
Marc 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.”
Silverstein states that Mineral Gap hopes to be a good community steward by developing projects in the county that will create jobs and financial opportunities while helping the environment, “all in efforts to revitalize areas that have been negatively impacted by the economic realities of the coal industry.”
“We see this project as a single stepping stone toward transforming the state of Virginia into a green-energy-based economy,” says Silverstein. “Our hope is that this pilot project will be replicated across Southwest Virginia and grow into a huge economic benefit for the region and for the entire Commonwealth.”
See here for full list of projects.
The Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition applauded the announcement Thursday from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Rep. Morgan Griffith (Va-9). The coalition facilitates efforts to ensure that AML Pilot grants and other coal-impacted land reclamation funds are used responsibly for projects that truly help lift up struggling communities while healing the land.
“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. “The Dante and Mineral Gap projects are excellent examples of innovative, community-driven reclamation that can be developed through dedicated reclamation funds.”
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