Older mines leave environmental problems behind, but hope is renewed

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Everyone likes a success story, and when Maggie Corder from Jefferson SWCD wrote a couple of weeks ago about the things that were done in her county to improve the quality of water in Yellow Creek, she inspired me to write about the work that’s just beginning here in Noble County.

Mining

This story began in the 1950s when coal mining was prevalent all over southeastern Ohio. But sometimes, not a lot of forethought was put into the process of surface mining, and the results were not real pleasant.

In the southern part of Noble County is an area where the overburden was almost exclusively sandstone. The mine began at the lower end of a small, steep valley, and they opened up a high wall up one side of the valley, turned, and came back down the other side.

As the overburden became too high to remove, they augured holes to retrieve more coal for a short distance back under the ridge. It took a little over 20 years to go all way around, finishing up in the early 1970s.

Now public

In the late 1990s, an agreement was struck between the coal company that still owned the land, and the ODNR Division of Wildlife, and in early May, 2000, the Ales Run Wildlife Area was dedicated.

The public hunting area covers 2,905 acres — nearly all of the small valley that is about four miles long and a little over a mile wide. With it, came nearly a hundred miles of high-wall, and a bench along it comprised of ground-up sandstone where practically nothing could grow. Thousands of trees were planted in early efforts to control erosion, and some grew quite well. But lots more didn’t grow at all.

By 2005, a Duck Creek Watershed Action plan was completed, and the Ale’s run sub-watershed was identified as an area of high concentrations of Acid Mine Drainage (AMD).

The first attempts to help correct the problem weren’t successful, but that didn’t stop the effort. Sometimes, the timing just has to be right for things to work, and things started to come together about two years ago.

Abandoned mine land

The ODNR Mineral Resources Management division has a section that deals only with Abandoned Mine Land (AML), and our area was lucky enough to get a native son assigned to the area. Todd Crum, whose father was a coal miner, and his grandfather was a dairy farmer, turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.

Todd seemed to hit the ground running with his efforts to improve the water quality in Ale’s Run, and he was fortunate to have funding available, tapping into funds from both the state and the federal Abandoned Mine Land programs.

These AML funds were generated over the past 35+ years through severance taxes that were paid by coal mine operators on every ton of coal mined in Ohio and across the country. This fund was dedicated to solve problems related to health, safety and environmental issues associated with the coal mining industry.

PH levels

In the case of Ale’s Run, the erosion in that valley over the past 50 years has been awful, but the real key to the repair is the high incidence of AMD.

While the pH level in almost every stream in Noble County is in the 6-7 range (neutral), every test that I’ve been involved with for Ale’s Run had a pH of 3-4. The water that comes out of the lower end of the valley is for the most part clear, but the level of acidity is so high that nothing can live in it.

Controlling the flow

So, how do you fix a problem like this? I mentioned that the geology of the area is all sandstone, and sandstone does nothing to neutralize AMD. The solution lies in controlling the flow of AMD — most of it seeps out of the old auger holes — and diverting it to rock channels that are lined with limestone.

As the water flows over these channels, the lime in the stone neutralizes the acid in the water, sometimes raising the pH level as much as 2 points. I’m not sure how many tons of limestone will have to be hauled in for this entire project, but it will be a bunch.

One channel that I saw last week probably used 300-400 tons for a channel around 250 feet long.

Cost

The AML program has authorized money to be spent for this massive cleanup over the next 11 years. The current plan is to address 30 areas over those 11 years, with a few contracts to be let out each year. Total cost estimate is around $8.2 million, with two projects currently under way that were bid at a little over $650,000.

A lot of folks would be interested to know that the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District has agreed to assist with funding these projects in an effort to keep the money generated from the assessments of property owners within the Duck Creek Watershed in the watershed. This year’s share from the conservancy district is $62,500.

So our success story is only beginning, but I’m sure it will have a happy ending.

If you’d like to learn more about the AML program, you can find lots of information on the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website – www.ohiodnr.com under the “mineral resources” section.

About the Author

Jim Mizik has been the district technician for the Noble Soil and Water Conservation District since 1999. He also raises beef cattle with his son, Jeremy, on his family farm. More Stories by Jim Mizik

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