Abandoned coal mines pose serious threats to public health, safety and welfare as well as degrade the environment. The programs of Tennessee Land Reclamation Section accomplish three important things: (1) They remove dangerous health and safety hazards that threaten the citizens of Tennessee; (2) they improve the environment; and (3) they restore resources to make them available for economic development, recreation, and other uses. Problems typically addressed by the Land Reclamation Section include open or improperly filled mine shafts, dilapidated mine buildings and equipment, toxic mine refuse and drainage, landslides, mine fires, highwalls and subsidence. Tennessee Code Annotated (59-8-324) authorizes the Commissioner of the Department of Environment and Conservation or its employees to acquire or enter property for the purposes of reclaiming abandoned mines.
Abandoned Mine Land Program
The Land Reclamation Section is responsible for reclaiming those mine sites that have been designated as "abandoned", meaning those sites which have been mined prior to surface mining laws, those sites with no reclamation bond, or those sites where there is no continuing obligation to the mine operator(s). Both appropriated state dollars and federal grant dollars from the U.S. Department of Interior's Office of Surface Mining (www.osmre.gov) are used to reclaim the sites. With an annual operating budget of approximately 3 million dollars, the Land Reclamation Section administers around 10 reclamation contracts each year.
Land Reclamation staff are responsible for identifying potential reclamation project sites, designing reclamation plans and specifications for those sites, awarding reclamation contracts, and inspecting the reclamation work as it progresses.
Bond Forfeiture Program
The Land Reclamation Section is also responsible for reclaiming those mine sites where reclamation bonds (posted by the mine operator) were collected by the State because of inadequate reclamation. Many of the mine sites where bond has been collected were mined in the early to mid-1970's. Even though most of these sites were partially reclaimed by the operator, many require extensive earthmoving and revegetation to stabilize them. The bonds that were collected are usually not sufficient to fully reclaim the sites; therefore each bond collection mine site is prioritized in order to address those which exhibit the most adverse mining effects. Bonds from stable sites may be applied to those needing work where the amount of the bond is inadequate to fully reclaim the site.
Even though money is appropriated each year from the bond fund for forfeiture reclamation projects, only the highest priority sites are reclaimed because the fund is limited. All unexpended dollars are returned to the fund at the end of the fiscal year for use on future projects.
Since its inception in 1981, the Tennessee Land Reclamation Section has reclaimed over 4,200 acres of abandoned mine lands at a cost of $44.5 million dollars. Approximately 1,140 acres have been reclaimed using $11.4 million of state appropriated monies and matching funds, while 3,000 acres have been reclaimed with $33 million in federal grant dollars.
Best Management Practices for Treating Abandoned Mine Land Runoff
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture maintains information to best manage runoff from Abandoned Mine Land