Little reclaimed surface mining land is being developed

Lexington Herald-LeaderOctober 18, 2009 

HAZARD, Ky. -- As attacks on mountaintop-removal mining in Appalachia have grown increasingly sharp, the coal industry and its supporters have defended the practice by saying that reclaimed mine areas provide flat land for development in a place where level sites are scarce.

However, development was planned for less than 3 percent of the roughly half-million acres of land covered by surface-mining permits in Kentucky over the last decade, according to state data.

That amounts to less than 14,000 acres scheduled to be reclaimed for commercial, residential, industrial or recreational development, data from the Kentucky Division of Mine Permits shows.

"Precious little of it is actually put to a beneficial use," Tom FitzGerald, the head of the Kentucky Resources Council, said of land that is surface-mined in Eastern Kentucky.

The issue of development has been a key theme in the debate over mountaintop mining in Appalachia.

Some flat land left after mining in the region's steep hills and narrow valleys has been used for development -- including golf courses, prisons, housing and hospitals. Supporters of the coal industry say that flat land is a boost for the region's economy.

In and around Hazard, subdivisions and retail stores, restaurants and hotels, the industrial park, the airport, the large regional hospital, a National Guard armory and even a nursing home for veterans sit on reclaimed mined areas.

Overall, however, coal companies obtained permits calling for development on just 2.8 percent of the 496,014 acres that listed a post-mining land use in permits issued since November 1999.

Companies said most of the permitted land since 1999 -- some of which has not yet been mined -- would be reclaimed as fish and wildlife habitat or for hay and pasture. By far, those have been the most common post-mining land uses of the last three decades, and the industry and others say those uses benefit the region, too.

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