Reclamation Letter to the Bismarck Tribune

Reclamation is not so advanced

By GENE WIRTZ Underwood
Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Coal mining reclamation in North Dakota is far less advanced than Ron Harper
suggests in his May 9 opinion piece.

He says Coteau’s Freedom Mine has reclaimed 13,285 acres of land, for
example, but the state has issued bond release on only 1,038 acres of land
disturbed by mining that are now used for agriculture, according to the
Public Service Commission.

Those 1,038 acres represent only slightly more than 2 percent of the land
under permit to Coteau, the state’s largest mine, which, incidentally, holds
ownership of most of the land it mines.

Harper is evidently counting as “reclaimed” all lands that have been mined
and are now being farmed. But reclamation is still in process until the land
passes muster at a final bond release. Only at the final bond release does a
company have to prove it has restored agricultural land to pre-mining
productivity and replaced damaged water resources as required under state
law. Sadly, Coteau’s poor record on bond release is still better than the
record of the state’s second-largest mine, Falkirk.

Falkirk has nearly 35,000 acres in its mining permit and has yet to gain
bond release on a single acre of land for agricultural use.

There is no reason to expect that a new mine at South Heart will do better
than the state’s existing mines when it comes to proving the productivity of
“reclaimed” lands.

Take a drive along state Highway 200, as Harper suggests. Stop on your way
and ask a farmer, “Do you think farmers will ever get back the land that’s
being mined?”

(Gene Wirtz is a member of the Dakota Resource Council.)

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