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July 14 — Pennsylvania will spend $30 million in newly awarded federal grant money to restore 14 abandoned mine sites in 10 Appalachian counties and turn them into office parks, gardens, tourist attractions and possible sources of geothermal energy, the state's Department of Environmental Protection said July 14.
The announcement marks the first step in a pilot program to use federal funds to reclaim abandoned mines in ways that will revitalize formerly coal-centered Appalachian communities. Congress authorized the new funding last year as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, the omnibus funding bill for fiscal year 2016 that was released Dec. 16.
The bill included at least $90 million for reclamation of mines in the three Appalachian states with the greatest amount of need, Gregory Conrad, executive director for the Interstate Mining Compact Commission, told Bloomberg BNA in December when the bill was passed. Those states were expected to be Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
An additional $30 million will go to Pennsylvania's abandoned mine land program, on top of the $27 million the state already spends annually on reclamation, the department said.
The new funds are intended to return legacy coal sites in Appalachian counties to productive reuse, and the projects are being carried out with a wide range of partners to achieve economic and community development goals, the department’s acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell said during an online press briefing July 14.
“We’re not merely reclaiming abandoned mine sites through the pilot program. We’re working with partners to develop these sites [as] economic engines in a variety of innovative ways,” McDonnell said.
All of the projects were suggested by outside stakeholders and “have been on the DEP's radar for some time,” but were not pursued in the past due to lack of funding, Eric Cavazza, director of the state's Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation, said at the briefing.
The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), which oversees the pilot program, asked the state to develop a preliminary list of projects in February, Cavazza said. The office approved the projects in May and awarded the grant money June 6. The grant expires May 31, 2019, so the state will have three years to spend the funding, he said.
All $30 million of the funding will go toward abandoned mine land reclamation and will not be spent on administration, the department said. Project partners will fund other aspects of the projects, Cavazza said.
• extinguishing an underground mine fire near Carbondale and restoring 82 acres to pre-mining condition;
• reclaiming about 100 acres of a mine near Pittsburgh to allow the development of a botanic garden;
• cleaning up an abandoned surface mine to make way for a World Trade Center business park near the Pittsburgh International Airport;
• removing a coal refuse pile and restoring 45 acres of land in Washington County to reduce erosion, flooding and acid runoff, and create a new public park.
The 14 projects have the potential to leverage up to $4 in additional investment in other public or private development funding for every $1 of pilot program funding, the department said.
Cavazza said all of the projects would go through a public comment process as work on each project begins.
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