By Robert Hughes
Abandoned mine reclamation is important to water quality and our watershed for many reasons. First, it prevents clean surface water flowing through areas impacted by mining from becoming polluted with trace metals and other contaminants from abandoned stripping operations and pits that dot the Anthracite landscapes of Northeastern PA. It also reduces the amount of abandoned mine drainage that forms in underground reservoirs and mine pools that then discharge to past mining features such as mine tunnels, slopes, shafts, pits, and boreholes. Reclamation further reconnects upstream headwaters habitat downstream and re-establishes natural areas that hold back sediments, reduce flooding potential, and provide groundwater recharge. Finally, abandoned mine reclamation provides opportunities to give our coalfield communities clean rivers and streams that can once again be used for fishing, swimming, drinking water, wildlife, and other activities.
The Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandon Mine Reclamation, commonly referred to as EPCAMR, is working with many partners in the headwaters of the Schuylkill River Watershed on abandoned mine drainage (AMD) remediation and supports abandoned mine land reclamation projects to restore the uppermost reaches of the Schuylkill River. EPCAMR is also working with partners in southern Luzerne County in the Upper Lehigh River Watershed where many AMD discharges are having an impact on the water quality of the river and its tributaries like the Nesquehoning Creek and Hazlebrook Creek, all of which feed into the Delaware River Watershed. This work in the headwaters of the Delaware River benefits downstream communities, wildlife, and habitats all along the way.
Partnership is key to our work and we are looking to connect with other regional partners, which is one of the reasons why EPCAMR became an active member of the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed. As a member of the Schuylkill Action Network for many years, EPCAMR helped develop and plan many successful restoration projects in the Schuylkill River Watershed. Now we would like to do the same for the larger Delaware River Watershed.
In addition to on-the-ground work, EPCAMR is also working to make policy changes in Washington, DC that will help support its mission of encouraging the reclamation and redevelopment of land affected by past mining practices. This year, EPCAMR staff worked with elected officials at the local, State, and Federal levels to support the RECLAIM Act, which is sponsored by Congressman Hal Rodgers (KY-5) and co-sponsored by Rep. Cartwright (PA-17) and Rep. Dent (PA-15), both of who represent areas in the Delaware River Watershed. If enacted, the RECLAIM Act would allow restoration, remediation, and economic development projects that create jobs and improve the quality of life among coalfield communities, while ultimately cleaning up abandon mine lands lessening impacts on water quality and allowing for new land uses.
There are multiple land uses allowed under the Federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, including open space areas, rail trails, mixed use housing developments, recreational sports fields, AMD treatment systems, and flood control areas, among others. Allowing for alternative uses in these areas opens up future opportunities for the sites and potential revenue streams forcommunities that otherwise would not have an opportunity to put the land back on the tax rolls.
EPCAMR staff are currently reaching out to Congressman Lou Barletta (PA-11) and Congressman Tom Marino (PA-10) to encourage them to co-sponsor the bill. Both of these members have districts that are part of the Delaware River Watershed and have a large number of abandoned mine land features, problem areas, and stream miles impacted by AMD.
For more information on the RECLAIM Act, as well as other resources related to abandoned mine reclamation visit EPCAMR’s website. Don't hesitate to give EPCAMR a call if you have a question or would like to partner with us or support initiatives going on in the Delaware River Watershed.
Robert Hughes has been the Executive Director for the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation (EPCAMR) since 1997. He has worked with numerous planning committee partners to coordinate and co-host approximately 20 annual statewide conferences on Abandoned Mine Reclamation and Abandoned Mine Drainage remediation (www.treatminewater.com). EPCAMR serves as a liaison and project coordinator between the myriad of state, federal, and local agencies to complete hundreds of mine drainage remediation projects. Robert graduated from The Pennsylvania State University in May 1995 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Resource Management and a concentration in water pollution control technologies and hydrogeology. He was born in Wilkes-Barre, PA on the day of the historic Agnes Flood and now lives in Nanticoke, PA with his family.