Monday, October 19, 2009

Strip-mine permits in Kentucky call for development on only 3 percent of mined land

The need for flat land to develop the economies of Appalachia has long been one of the talking points for mountaintop-removal mining of coal. However, less than 3 percent of the nearly half-million acres permitted for surface coal mining in Kentucky since 1999 have been planned for development, report Bill Estep and Linda J. Johnson of the Lexington Herald-Leader. The permits call for commercial, residential, industrial or recreational development on only 13,888 of the 496,014 acres of permitted land. Most give the post-mining land use as fish and wildlife habitat, or hay and pasture.

"Precious little of it is actually put to a beneficial use," Tom FitzGerald, head of the Kentucky Resources Council, told the Herald-Leader. Industry officials say land designated for pasture and wildlife benefit the region, but state House Speaker Greg Stumbo says coal companies should consider community development needs when applying for surface-mine permits. "I'd like to see us have some strategic planning so that what's left is in fact a benefit to the area, or a potential benefit," Stumbo, a Democrat from Eastern Kentucky's Floyd County, told the paper.

Unstable ground has led to some problems building on reclaimed mine sites, and many sites in Eastern Kentucky aren't developed because of their remote locations away from urban infrastructure, Estep and Johnson report. A 2002 study from West Virginia found that it was unlikely that more than 3 percent of strip-mined land would be developed because static or declining local populations didn't need more land for development, among other things.

Population is declining in the part of Eastern Kentucky where mountaintops (actually, peaks created by erosion of the Cumberland Plateau) are being mined, but many local residents say the flat land is needed to improve the region. "Future development in this part of the world, that's where it's going to be," Voncel Thacker, a Knott County businessman who is building a subdivision (Herald-Leader photo by Charles Bertram) on reclaimed land, tells the reporters. "You can't build on the side of a cliff." Bill Caylor, outgoing president of the Kentucky Coal Association, says non-developed mine sites may still be developed later: "In another hundred years, God knows what this will look like. But it will be used because it's level land." (Read more)

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