Scars from coal mining remain in Boone County. Nature may be repairing the problem | Local


Hundreds of acres of land in Boone County which have been scarred by coal mining operations and focused for cleanup remain unfunded.

According to the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, to reclaim all of the deserted mines in the county would price not less than $7.4 million.

Statewide, the place over $70 million of reclamation work has been accomplished, greater than $123 million nonetheless must be spent to scrub up outdated coal mines.

The northern view of Maupin Lane is dry and missing vegetation northeast of Columbia. One of the duties of the deserted line reclamation specialists is to watch the pH ranges of water and plant progress and think about the land’s potential to revegetate after years of mining.

But for the most half, these decades-old scars throughout Boone County aren’t of 0urgent concern, in keeping with state consultants at the Department of Natural Resources.

“Generally, there’s not a significant amount of risk in the Boone County area,” mentioned Mike Mueller, the unit chief for DNR’s Abandoned Mine Lands part. “The major risks have been eliminated.”

To determine a significant threat, the division splits problem areas into three precedence teams, based mostly on the hazard to their environment.

Priority 1 and a pair of websites pose a direct threat to public well being and security. Priority 3 websites don’t pose a direct menace to public security however may pose a menace to the surroundings.

Based on the present database, Boone County is freed from Priority 1 websites, the most harmful sort. The county’s central location and proximity to Jefferson City make it simpler for DNR to keep watch over it and dispatch assist shortly to handle any potential hazard.

“We got those taken care of early in the game,” Mueller mentioned.

Reclamation initiatives usually contain shifting grime round to flatten steep drop-offs, fill in deep holes and clear up undesirable chemical reactions like acid mine drainage.

For a website in Harrisburg, DNR staff cleaned up clogged streams and polluted water, corrected harmful embankments and excessive partitions, amongst different duties. Similar work happened at websites round Upper Cedar Creek and Rocky Fork.

But regardless of the progress in Boone County, loads of Priority 2 and three websites remain, and the situation of problem spots throughout the state is at all times in flux.

“The inventory is not complete,” mentioned Austin Rehagen, an environmental specialist for DNR’s Abandoned Mine Lands part. “It’s always evolving.”

Nature takes its course

When the reclamation program started in Missouri, the unique evaluation in 1977 discovered about 67,000 acres throughout the state that had been impacted by coal mining. Yet most deserted mine websites haven’t required intervention from DNR. Instead, nature stepped in to do the job.

“I’d say 60% of it has been naturally revegetated and stabilized,” Mueller mentioned.

At some deserted mine lands, a passerby may not even notice that fifty years or longer in the past, coal miners have been digging into that very same floor.

Just 25 minutes northeast of Columbia, for instance, white-tailed deer scamper alongside the water line of a quiet lake. The lake’s previous as a 20-foot-coal mining pit is unrecognizable.

Now, it’s a peaceable spot for fishing and recreation, however DNR continues to keep watch over it, guaranteeing that it doesn’t pose a threat to the public.

Rehagen points to a topographical map of a former coal mining area

Austin Rehagen factors to a topographical map of an space as soon as residence to a coal mining operation northeast of Columbia. Many deserted mines have change into our bodies of water appropriate for fishing.

Public security first

Problem areas that solely affect the surroundings beneath Priority 3, are off limits to the DNR for the time being. As a situation of program funding prevents work on these lower-risk areas till greater priorities — direct threats to the public — are accomplished.

“Right now, we don’t have the jurisdiction, or I guess the authority, to do P3 standalones,” Rehagen mentioned.

In the Eighties, when the program was simply getting began and reclamation initiatives have been focusing on a few of the worst spots in the state, groups would clear up Priority 3 issues in the neighborhood at any time when they may.

“The program is pointed toward public health and safety first, but also keep in mind, we’re the Department of Natural Resources,” Rehagen mentioned. “While we’re in the area, and we’ve got projects, let’s try to clean up all the nasties we can.”

The view of the southern side of Maupin Lane sits in rich growth

The southern facet of Maupin Lane has wealthy progress Dec. 13, 2021, northeast of Columbia. Passers-by wouldn’t know that this tranquil space was as soon as a coal mining operation a long time in the past.

For instance, close to one website but to be reclaimed, 5 tires and a discarded rest room had discovered a house in the woods the place that they had been dumped. Though not a direct product of mining, reclamation groups would decide up that form of waste in efforts to maintain Missouri landscapes wholesome total.

The funding issue

The division has been capable of work on environmentally unsound or Priority 3 websites by roping them into bigger initiatives and even making the case that they’re public well being hazards, however the guidelines for a way the cash can be spent are nonetheless in impact. As with many authorities applications, funding is sophisticated.

Austin Rehagen looks on at the abandoned mines

Austin Rehagen appears to be like on at reclaimed deserted mine land Dec. 13, 2021, northeast of Columbia. Rehagen works with landowners to reclaim deserted mine land, making the space safer and extra environmentally sound.

In an ironic but comprehensible twist, a giant portion of the funding for deserted mine reclamation is tied to the quantity of mining in the state. As a state mines fewer tons, it receives much less funding to scrub up its outdated messes.

The nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been bustling mining years for the Show-Me State, as the Bonne Terre area emerged as a worldwide chief in lead manufacturing and a outstanding coal trade fashioned in the north and southwest, in keeping with the State Historical Society of Missouri.

But coal mining has lengthy been truly fizzling out in Missouri. Less coal mining means much less tax income from coal manufacturing, a main supply of cash for Missouri’s deserted mine land reclamation program.

As a consequence, the state now receives a baseline quantity of federal funding every year to complement a minimal quantity of production-proportional funding. Officials say it’s sufficient to get the job accomplished.

“I think we have the tools necessary to do that work,” Rehagen mentioned.

The division has largely been capable of keep forward of Priority 1 problem areas as they seem throughout the state, although some Priority 2 and three issues remain.

Landowners get the remaining phrase

Whether or not a website is cleaned up isn’t totally as much as DNR. Missouri landowners can stand between DNR and the reclamation of deserted mines.

Most of Missouri’s deserted mine land is on personal property, and in many circumstances, the homeowners have refused the state’s provide to intervene.

Specialists like Rehagen and Mueller work with landowners to elucidate the dangers and pitch potential options. Part of the reclamation course of is figuring out what’s going to go into the new panorama, and landowners can resolve what’s planted, what fish to inventory in lakes or streams and what different makes use of are fascinating.

“A lot of these projects get really, really nice fishing,” Rehagen mentioned. “We want to make sure that if we do a project, we try to replace some of that fishing that was lost.”

As lengthy because it isn’t invasive, DNR does its finest to accommodate no matter strikes a landowner’s fancy after reclamation. That can embody planting sure kinds of timber or making a habitat for specific wildlife, although the division will pitch native Missouri species first.

If environmental specialists like Rehagen suppose an deserted mine land website on personal property poses an particularly nice threat to the public, like a steep drop-off close to a well-traveled highway, they will attempt to make a case for reclamation to a landowner who may be in search of to keep away from any legal responsibility. But on personal property, the landowner is accountable for making the name.

A toilet lays at the bottom of a ditch that was once part of a mine

A bathroom lies at the backside of a ditch that was as soon as a part of a mine Dec. 13, 2021, northeast of Columbia. The Department of Natural Resources displays areas like this to verify automobiles touring public roads aren’t put at pointless threat.

In the meantime, DNR retains tabs on websites even after they’ve been reclaimed. Specialists take pH ranges of the water and monitor plant progress and topography, additionally bearing in mind the manner the land is getting used and the landowners’ preferences.

Checking again on a website reclaimed just some years in the past, Rehagen observed new life. Even after plowing the land and altering the topography, dozens of timber had grown again, solely of nature’s personal accord.

“Those weren’t necessarily planted,” Rehagen mentioned, pointing to the clusters of younger, barren timber. “Whatever came back, came back.”

Cover photograph by Cleo Norman: A deep pond that was as soon as a mine pit shimmers in the solar Dec. 13, 2021, northeast of Columbia. Many of the former mines are actually residence to quite a lot of ecosystems. “These projects get really, really nice fishing” Rehagen mentioned.