The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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October 11, 2012

Lawmakers to get up-close look at mine reclamation

Decades ago, surface mining was a hit-and-run affair in the hills of West Virginia.

Once the coal was removed, operators simply pulled up stakes and left the land behind, generally unfit for any future use

All that has changed since new federal regulations came on line, and next week, some West Virginia lawmakers plan to get a close up look at how land can be converted into a variety of uses.

Members of the finance committees in both the Senate and House of Delegates will leave a staging area along Corridor G for a two-day tour of Mingo County.

Over the two-day period, House Finance Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, will serve as host for visits to a golf course, a coal-to-liquefaction project, 13 miles of proposed four-lane highway, a new school, hardwoods factory and a new airport — all built on former mining property.

“This is a small sample of some of the things that have happened from post-mine land use in southern West Virginia,” White said Wednesday.

“We just want to make the Legislature aware of what’s going on and what can happen and with the future development of these properties, whether it be industrial or whatever.”

Strip mining has come under intense fire in recent years, and White says he wants to show a positive side of the practice in the Monday-Tuesday visit.

“There are things that can happen after the mining is over to try to produce and be able to have additional economic development in southern West Virginia,” the finance chairman said.

White said opposition to mining, or any other endeavor, is hardly new under the Capitol dome.

“I’m going to guess there is probably a little bit of anti-almost anything, anywhere you go,” he said.

“At the same time, what our goal is, is to just try to showcase what can happen with the proper post-mine land use put in place, when you file all the permits.”

Before the government cracked down, mining at times was shoddy.

“Obviously, in the old days, when the coal was gone, the property just lay there,” White said.

“In the past, it wasn’t always done with economic development in mind.”

Over the past two decades, however, he said the idea has been to leave abandoned mine lands in a manner that is suitable for a single-family dwelling or an industrial site to generate job growth.

Under federal guidelines, operators are obligated to restore old lands so that it is as good or better before extraction began.

“What we’ve done is take it a step further, and we try to leave some kind of development on that site after they’re gone,” he said.

This Friday, a dedication is planned at a new airport with a 5,000-foot runway that could be expanded to as much as 7,000 feet.

“Our goal is to move most of that commercial air traffic through there and get UPS or Fed-Ex to use that as a major distribution point,” White said.

“We’ve got the National Guard doing touch-and-gos down there now.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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