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Scant development on mined lands

HAZARD, Ky. (AP) - Development was planned for just a fraction
of the roughly half-million acres of land covered by surface-mining
permits in Kentucky during the last decade, according to state
data.
The issue of development has been a key theme in the debate over
mountaintop-removal mining in Appalachia.
Data from the Kentucky Division of Mine Permits show that
development was planned for less than 3 percent of the land -
amounting to less than 14,000 acres scheduled to be reclaimed for
commercial, residential, industrial or recreational development,
the Lexington Herald-Leader reported Sunday.
"Precious little of it is actually put to a beneficial use,"
Tom FitzGerald, head of the Kentucky Resources Council, said of
land that is surface-mined in eastern Kentucky.
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 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, the
newspaper reported.
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.
A key state legislator is now pushing an idea aimed at promoting
more development on reclaimed mined areas. House Speaker Greg
Stumbo advocates having coal companies consider community
development needs as part of the process of getting a surface-mine
permit.
Stumbo said companies should sit down with local leaders,
highway planners and economic-development officials to figure out
whether work required to reclaim a mined area could be tailored to
meet needs such as more housing sites or areas for road
construction.
Much of the development that has occurred on mined sites has
been piecemeal, he said.
When Congress approved sweeping changes in surface mining and
reclamation law in the late 1970s, part of its intent was that
sites have a greater use after mining than before, Stumbo said.
Appalachian coal states have skirted that concept a bit by
deciding that pasture land is a greater use than timber land, which
was the pre-mining use in most cases, he said.
Landowners have final say on whether their land will be mined
and on which type of reclamation to use. In some cases, coal
companies own land, but in others, it's in the hands of private
owners who lease it to companies.
FitzGerald, one of the state's leading environmentalists, said
raising the level of scrutiny on what is considered a better use of
land after mining would be a good step.
Bill Caylor, outgoing president of the Kentucky Coal
Association, acknowledged in previous interviews that a lot of
surface-mined land in eastern Kentucky won't be developed quickly,
but he said no one can predict what the need will be someday.
He pointed to a site outside Hazard that was reclaimed as
pasture land 25 years ago but now has houses on it. No one could
have foreseen that at the time it was mined, Caylor said.
Mined land also has been used as habitat to restore elk to
Kentucky, boosting hunting and tourism, and there are growing
efforts to promote mined areas as locations for "adventure
tourism."
"In another hundred years, God knows what this will look like.
But it will be used because it's level land," Caylor said.
---
Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader,
http://www.kentucky.com

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-10-18-09 1720EDT


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