Reclaimed coal mining land is inspiring community development across the state
Note: This blog was written by Christina Kamkutis, a Senior Journalism Major at West Virginia University. ABCo invites inquiries from college students interested in writing and internship opportunities. For more information, contact Jocelyn at email@example.com.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Land in West Virginia has been long cherished for its abundance of natural resources and its ability to employ the surrounding communities. As the 150-year-old coal industry continues to decline, many are worried about the future of the business and the jobs it provides to people in the state.
In all but two of fifty-five counties in the entire state, coal runs rampant through West Virginia's soil. There are “sixty-two individual seams of coal that are considered economically mineable” by experts’ standards, according to the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training.
Mine Maps have been required since 1883; however, there were no laws that required companies to stick to their original plans. Due to this, the number of abandoned coal mines in the state remains unknown, but the state has since enacted laws (West Virginia code 22A-2-1, 1968) that require coal mining companies to not only turn in a plan, but also maintain it, among other safety and health precautions.
The land that is recorded is often hard to acquire, due to the ambiguity of who owns it and difficulty of getting in touch with them.
“Some sites are owned by multiple owners who might have differing viewpoints on how they want to manage their lands for the long term,” wrote Terrell Ellis, Executive Director of Advantage Valley, in an email interview. “For large mine land redevelopment projects requiring the cooperation of several owners, there is a need to facilitate dialogue between ownership entities to reach agreement on the desired re-uses.”
Ellis went on to highlight that there was an estimated national $11 billion cost associated with the cleanup for coal land reclamation prior to the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. Ellis also noted that taxes on coal as a part of the SMCRA legislation are not enough to help solve this issue, and pointed out that solving ownership and environmental issues are the way to create opportunities on reclaimed coal land for West Virginians.
Some groups in the state have transcended this obstacle, and have been able to grow new life from the otherwise defunct land. Among them is the Appalachian Botanical Co, who cultivate lavender and raise bees in Ashford, WV.
“Groups like ABCo are great examples of how we can re-use our mine lands and I hope they will inspire others to think creatively about how these lands can be re-used to create a new vision for entrepreneurship and economic development in West Virginia,” wrote Ellis.
Appalachian Botanical Co uses their yield to make quality body care, aromatherapy and culinary and home goods products. They also train and employ people who have lost their jobs in the coal industry, have been previously incarcerated, struggled with substance abuse issues, lack reliable transportation, or lack a high school diploma. Appalachian Botanical Co also teams up with outside organizations to provide their employees with other supporting services.
“This kind of supportive environment is so valuable for entry level employees who need additional support to move along the employment ladder,” said Ellis.
People across the state are recognizing the work groups such as Appalachian Botanical Company are doing, and encourage more to follow in their footsteps.
“New companies like [Appalachian Botanical Company] improve the state in a myriad of ways, creating jobs, providing opportunities for families, producing products that have ‘West Virginia’ on the label, increasing the tax base, showcasing innovation, proving that education along with science and technology are important and more,” wrote Kevin DiGregorio, Executive Director of the Chemical Alliance Zone, in an email interview.
“We're demonstrating that mine land with limited economic potential can be put to good use to grow a valuable specialty crop such as lavender,” said Jocelyn Sheppard, founder and president at Appalachian Botanical Co. “Instead of coming in from the outside thinking we have all the answers, we leverage local resources to find local solutions for local problems; in other words, we help bring out the strength and creativity and problem-solving that existed in the community all along.”
West Virginia was awarded $140 million of funding this year to address the cleanup of coal mining land and help start the process of economic growth as a result of a bipartisan infrastructure bill that Congress passed.
Ellis also mentioned the rise of solar development in the state as a future alternative to the coal industry and the jobs it provides. The solar energy will be on reclaimed land and a way to help provide economic growth and renewable energy to the state.
“Opportunity abounds in these hills and hollows and our rich, fertile soils are ripe for change. In addition to the land and all the assets at our fingertips, our people are our real resource,” wrote Lacy Davidson Ferguson, the planning coordinator for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, Business Development Division, in an email interview. “West Virginians are innovators, hard workers, and big-hearted folks. Ready to take on any challenge that life throws our way, with resiliency, strong, open arms and a warm smile!”
Lacy Davidson Ferguson, planning coordinator for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, Business Development Division: firstname.lastname@example.org
Terrell Ellis, Executive Director of Advantage Valley: email@example.com
Kevin DiGreggio, Executive Director of the Chemical Alliance Zone: firstname.lastname@example.org
West Virginia Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training. (2020, December 14). West virginia mine map archives. WV Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://minesafety.wv.gov/historical-statistical-data/west-virginia-mine-map-archives/
22A-2-1. Supervision by professional engineer or licensed land surveyor; seal and certification; contents; extensions; repository; availability; traversing; copies; archive; final survey and map; penalties (1968). https://www.wvlegislature.gov/wvcode/code.cfm?chap=22A&art=2#:~:text=%C2%A722A%2D2%2D1.,final%20survey%20and%20map%3B%20penalties.
McElhinny, B., Staff, M. N., & McElhinny, B. (2022, February 8). West Virginia is allocated unprecedented amount to clean up abandoned mine lands. WV MetroNews — The Voice of West Virginia. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://wvmetronews.com/2022/02/08/west-virginia-is-allocated-unprecedented-amount-to-clean-up-abandoned-mine-lands/
MEET THE AUTHOR / CHRISTINA KAMKUTIS is a senior at West Virginia University studying journalism and women's and gender studies. She has been a part of multiple on campus organizations, and held executive roles as Editor, Activity Director and President of Her Campus. Her work has been published multiple times in Mirage Magazine, the fashion and lifestyle publication of the WVU Reed College of Media.