Former coal mines spur economic development

Former coal mines spur economic development
Kyle Valentini

Nancy Schoenbaum, treasurer/director of Camp Tuscazoar Foundation, speaks to tour participants about Camp Tuscazoar, which includes land once owned by the Dessecker family and was carelessly mined.


Rural Action held an abandoned mine land tour of successful abandoned mine land reclamation and economic projects in the region on Friday, Dec. 13. The tour began at the Lawrence Township Hall in Bolivar and was free with lunch provided.

While the tour hit a snag early on with a dead battery on the tour bus that was the primary mode of transportation for the nearly two-dozen participants, the crew at Rural Action never missed a beat as they coordinated a car-pooling initiative that would take them to the next stop on the tour while the bus was fitted with a new battery.

Highlighted projects included the Farr property near Mineral City, Camp Tuscazoar near Dover and the D.O. Hall Business Center at Cambridge.

John Miceli of Dover attended the tour to learn more about what he could do to help his own rural property recover from long-ago unregulated surface and high wall coal mining, of which impacts can still be seen today.

"Growing up in this area on my own family's farm, I have seen the land slowly recover on its own over the years," Miceli said. "Streams that used to run bright orange are cleaner now, but I am still interested in the projects being done to help the process along. I'm willing to do the work. I wanted to learn more so I don't end up doing the wrong thing."

Through a new federal program, The Abandoned Mine Land Pilot Program, facilitated through Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, Ohio has been granted $10 million for the past three years to locate abandoned coal mines and affected areas that have potential for economic development.

OSMRE is a bureau of the Department of the Interior and recognizes annually the efforts of regulatory agencies and partner companies in reclamation projects at coal-mined lands that were abandoned under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, the first federal law to regulate the environmental effects of coal mining in America.

Middle Tuscarawas Watershed coordinator Marissa Lautzenheiser said there are two potential pieces of legislation that could affect Eastern Ohio right now. “First, the Reclaim Act, a federal bill pending in Congress, would release up to $25 million a year to Ohio to do just that: reclaim the land,” she said. "Ohio would potentially have $61 million to fund projects over five years.”

The Reclaim Act was a topic of discussion during the tour, as the locations visited are all part of the Pilot Program.

Over the last 20 years, there has been a severance tax on current coal production per every ton of coal removed; pennies on the ton come back to the state of Ohio and go to mines that were abandoned before 1977. This severance tax will expire in 2021.

"We stand a chance of not being able to continue this successful program because it expires," Lautzenheiser said. "The other bill pending would reauthorize that severance tax so it can continue to operate the same as today."

Tour participants learned about the recently completed acid mine drainage project on the Farr property. The site is home to an abandoned underground and surface coal mine that discharges iron oxide into Huff Run, a tributary to the Tuscarawas River.

In the past this acid mine drainage or AMD was toxic to many aquatic species including fish and insects. With the installation of a passive anoxic limestone drain, water is discharged from the mine into a buried bed of limestone before passing through two settling ponds to help neutralize the acidity of the water and contain the iron pollution.

About 6,500 pounds of iron is reduced annually by the treatment. The project was completed in 2018 at a cost of $375,000.

The Camp Tuscazoar Foundation had purchased a large portion of land about 3 miles northeast of Dover in Fairfield Township that was once a farm operated by Marion and Milton Dessecker, twin brothers with a reputation for being self-reliant and a bit peculiar. It included a small, abandoned surface and underground mine along with a dilapidated coal tipple and partially collapsed mine entrance.

Several hundred volunteers assembled in terrible March weather to plant 5,000 burr oak, northern red oak, silver maple, sweetgum and white oak seedlings. While only 20 percent of the trees planted will probably survive, according to Lautzenheiser, those trees will benefit the area.

The reclamation effort, which cost $745,000, recently won the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Award, a national award for the best reclamation project.

The final site visited was the D.O. Hall Business Center, an industrial park that has been built on top of an underground mine. The reclamation project included stabilizing the room and pillar underground mine using concrete pumping technology, making the land safer to build on.

"To think 10 years ago this was just a field, and now we have more than 500 people employed here," Norm Blanchard of the Cambridge-Guernsey County Community Improvement Corporation said.

Businesses that have located at the site include Federal Express, Rigid Tools and Detroit Deisel, among others.

Rural Action is a membership-based nonprofit working in the southeast and central-eastern counties of Appalachian Ohio since 1991. Its mission is to build a more just economy by developing the region’s assets in environmentally, socially and economically sustainable ways. The organization has more than 600 members throughout Appalachian Ohio.

Rural Action’s office in Mineral City is located at 8728 N. High St. Call 330-859-1050 for more information.

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