By Chris Hamilton, Senior Vice President
West Virginia Coal Association
GILBERT – In the fall of 2011, Mingo Central Comprehensive High School officially opened its doors to approximately 500 students from all across Mingo County.
Mingo Central is a comprehensive 9-12 high school on a beautiful 90 acre site along the King Coal Highway overlooking the mountains of Mingo County. It is a 172,535 square foot school containing approximately 60 classrooms, a dining room seating 488 students, a band room for 80 band members, an auditorium seating 400 people and a gymnasium seating 2,160 fans.
The state-of-art school is situated on a former surface mine that was responsible for the enormous amount of site preparation work and reconfiguring of the land to accommodate the school, access roads and necessary infrastructure. The new school is clearly developed into one of the premier high schools within our state.
Alpha Natural Resources and the School Building Authority joined local, county and state officials in developing this project and it is an excellent example what can be accomplished on former mine sites with careful planning and an eye towards the future.
Mingo Central Comprehensive High School becomes the latest edition to our state’s post mine land portfolio where a little vision, planning, local leadership and broad community support came together to create a state-of-the-state educational facility and the continued viability of a former mine site.
This site joins a growing number of public commercial, industrial and recreational facilities throughout West Virginia that is supporting a new found dimension of our state’s economy and job base.
In fact, the West Virginia Office of Coalfield Community Development reports more than 13.000 jobs have been created on post mine land sites. New uses for surface mined lands include residential development, tourism, energy, schools, government facilities and manufacturing.
Sites such as the Medical Center in Weirton to Cabela’s in Wheeling to Mylan Park in Morgantown, the State Prison in Fayette, ERT Convention Center in Logan and the FBI Center in Clarksburg are all on former mine land. Joining the Mingo County Consolidated High School are the Mount View High School in McDowell County as well as the Coal City Elementary and Independence middle and high schools in Raleigh County as examples of former mine land being used to improve education across the state.
These former surface mine sites have been critically important, providing land for new industrial, residential and recreational purposes, and many of these projects are able to take advantage and utilize the infrastructure, roads, buildings and electric service established and used during active mining.
More than 10,000 acres of land that was surfaced mined will now become home to the National Boy Scout Jamboree which is set to open in 2012.Construction and site preparation work has been in operation throughout the past year. 50,000 Boy Scouts will come to the Adventure Center each year. The economy of Fayetteville will thrive as the direct result of this facility.
In West Virginia and across Appalachia, any type of major development requires the natural landscape be altered. The mountainous terrain provides little land naturally suited to development.
The natural landscape of West Virginia can be characterized usually as a narrow valley floor --between 100 and 1000 feet wide -- surrounded by steep mountainsides that are often a 50-degree slope or more.
What this means is that any development is naturally limited by the landscape.
Overcoming this limiting factor is an expensive undertaking. Moving the amount of earth necessary to build a road, a shopping center, a school or an industrial park requires an investment of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars before construction of the facility or the road even begins.
Accompanying this article is a partial list of facilities either located on former mine lands or in the process of construction. The sites run the gamut of development, including everything from golf courses to hospitals, from schools to industrial parks and from prisons to residential areas. The businesses and facilities located on these sites provide literally thousands of good, quality jobs. These are jobs that would likely not have existed without the land provided at low, if any, cost by the coal industry.
Some critics of surface mining claim that little of the land used for surface mines is potentially developable. However, a look at any of the land use plans of coalfield counties shows this claim is simply not valid.
For example, according to the Logan County Land Use Plan, approximately 65 percent of the surface mine sites in the county are within five miles of a four-lane highway. These sites are also close to air transportation and are within a day’s drive of most of the East Coast.
These sites have the potential to be very attractive to economic development, but the post-mine land use also includes residential, educational and recreational uses. As is shown in the list on the next page, there are many examples of residential, educational and recreational development on these sites.
In West Virginia, the little hollows along which most people live often flood, wiping away lives and life’s work in just minutes. Like industrial and commercial development, the people of West Virginia build their homes along these little hollows because there are no other good options. Building a home on a 50 degree slope is nearly impossible and building on the mountaintop requires providing your own access and utilities.
Former mine lands can be configured for residential development. At Bright Mountain in Nicholas County, a former mine site provides home sites for more than 100 homes. In Weirton, almost 80 percent of the community is on former mine land.
The calculation is a simple one -- West Virginia needs to diversity its economy. In order to do that, the state needs readily developable lands. Surface mining provides that developable land. Therefore surface mine lands fulfill a need the state has to provide good quality, high paying jobs today and in the future.
The mining industry is committed to environmental stewardship and takes its job seriously.
Many governmental and environmental groups, such as the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, Ducks Unlimited and the Wild Turkey Federation, annually review and nominate coal company reclamation projects for special awards recognizing their efforts.
These are highly coveted awards and something for which everyone in the industry strives and is proud to win.