Record Staff Report
WASHINGTON, DC —
An abandoned mine reclamation project in McCreary County has been chosen for an award by the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM).
The Rock Creek Task Force — made up of a dozen government agencies and conservation organizations — has won the OSM 2012 Appalachian Regional Award, which was presented by OSM Director Joe Pizarchik last night during the 34th Annual Conference of the National Association of Abandoned Mine Land Programs in Des Moines, Iowa.
The task force worked for more than a decade to clean up damage from acid mine drainage that had left Lower Rock Creek without aquatic life for several miles, according to an OSM news release. When the project was done, acid in the creek had been cut by 99 percent and fish and other wildlife had returned, the agency said.
“The Lower Rock Creek Watershed Restoration Project has been a success that exemplifies the need, purpose and capability of the abandoned mine land program. The project overcame great obstacles from technical problems, minimizing construction induced sediment problems, to permits and funding,” Bob Scott, director of the Kentucky Division of Abandoned Mine Lands, stated. “The Rock Creek Task Force brought together regulatory public agencies that provided input from multiple scientific disciplines and created a ‘buy-in’ effect for all parties involved.”
Rock Creek is a boulder-strewn stream that flows from Tennessee (Pickett State Park) northeast into Kentucky through the Daniel Boone National Forest and the Big South Fork National Recreation Area before it empties into the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River.
The entire Rock Creek watershed is a major recreational attraction visited by thousands each year for fishing, hunting, hiking, backpacking and camping. Upper Rock Creek is a Kentucky Wild River, serving as a major recreational attraction and a blue ribbon trout stream. However, Lower Rock Creek’s aquatic habitat and fresh water supplies had been decimated from acid mine drainage (AMD) from more than 40 underground coalmine portals and eight pyrite-rich refuse dumps. The dumps also posed a fire hazard and supplied sediments to the water.
Underground coal mining began in the Rock Creek watershed in the early 1900s and continued through the 1960s.
The Rock Creek Task Force was formed in 1998 to address acid drainage and completed the project in three phases: the installation of about six miles of open limestone channels, construction of a vertical flow pond system and construction of a self-flushing limestone pond.
The cleanup project in the watershed covered four areas in Kentucky and Tennessee. Completed in 2010, the project has virtually eliminated the AMD impacts from the Rock Creek watershed into the Big South Fork while reducing erosion and suppressing the fire hazard.
“Most importantly, the restoration of the Rock Creek watershed has had a major impact on the lives of the residents of the area,” Kentucky Energy and Environment Secretary Len Peters stated. “The environment of the region is much cleaner, allowing families to enjoy swimming and fishing again.”
Partners in the reclamation project include the Kentucky Division of Abandoned Mine Lands, Kentucky Division of Water, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Kentucky Department of Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, United States Office of Surface Mining, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. National Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and Trout Unlimited.
Since 1992, the federal Office of Surface Mining has presented awards to reclamation programs affecting lands abandoned before 1977 when federal oversight of coal mining began. In addition to public recognition, OSM hopes to encourage the exchange of successful reclamation technology.
Other regional winners were from Illinois (Mid-Continent) and Montana (Western), while projects in Utah (Small Project) and Pennsylvania (National) were also honored.