Reclaiming Mine Land in Mahaska County
If you’re familiar with Mahaska County, you probably know about the reminiscence of Abandoned Mine Land (AML). This land carries the history of Iowa’s coal mines. Most coal mining occurred in the southeastern part of Iowa, mostly in Mahaska and Marion County. The coal was used to heat homes and fuel the railroad industry. 1917 was the peak year for coal mining in Iowa.
Even though AMLs carry much history, there are many problems present on these sites. Some problems are environmental including acidic water and soil, which prevent vegetative growth and aquatic biodiversity. Another concern includes danger of falling or injury to animals and people who traverse on the AML sites. These dangers come from steep highwalls and loose sediment that was left behind from the miners. To eliminate these problems, AML sites go through reclamation.
AML reclamation is a long tedious process. The sites must first go through an inventory process to assess the degree of problems. Each site is then ranked based on the environmental problems as well as the potential hazards to public health, safety, and general welfare. Once a site is chosen, a reclamation design is created and grant funds can be sought.
Reclamation is extremely costly, averaging $15,000-$20,000 per acre. None of these costs are incurred by the landowner. Instead, funding comes from federal, state, local and nonprofit sources. Some of these sources include the Department of Interiors Office of Surface Mining (OSM), Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D), and watershed grant funding.
The actual reclamation of the land is very labor intensive. Any trees or vegetation must be removed first. After that, an extensive amount of dirt will be moved to reshape and level the area to eliminate the dangerous highwalls. To neutralize the acidic soil, large amounts of agriculture lime are incorporated into the soil, often 15-20 tons per acre. The land can then serve as pasture, hayland, recreational areas, wildlife habitat, or wetlands.
To assist with some of the AML reclamation projects, the Mahaska County Soil and Water Conservation District has hired Liz Sample as the summer intern. Liz will work with AML owners in collecting inventory or reassessing AML sites. The sites will be water quality tested and any hazards will be documented. Only mine sites in which the landowner has given permission for assessment will be inventoried.
Any land that was mined prior to 1977 is eligible to be reclaimed using funds from the Iowa AML program. Landowners who suspect an abandoned mine site on their property are encouraged to have the site inventoried. Working with landowners is an important part of the AML program.
If you have an abandoned mine on your property that you would like inventoried or if you’re interested in hearing more about the AML program, please feel free to contact Liz Sample at 641-673-3476 ext. 3 or visit the USDA Service Center in Oskaloosa.