USA Mine Reclamation






8.5 Cover crop-reclamation


Cover crop-reclamation

(Photo: Virginia Tech Dept. of Geography)





Revision:  December 2006

Author: Jack Caldwell



Here are some quotable quotes from Issue 2 2006 of Reclamation Matters, the journal of the American Society of Mining and Reclamation.


  • “It’ll take another week to break down the mine and put the mountain back in shape.  Make ‘er appear like she was before we came.  We’ve wounded this mountain and it’s our duty to close her wounds.  It’s the least we can do so show our gratitude for all the wealth she’s given us.  If you guys don’t want to help me, I’ll do it alone.”  Robert Darmody recalling a statement from the movie The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. 
  • “A person is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”  Jeff Skousen recalling a friend’s statement.  He continues in his own words: “..we need to have open minds and to seek all the facts—not just the ones that fit our biases and past experiences—to expand our knowledge base and to implement new ideas. 
  • “I was taught that every individual has at least one great talent.  The great tragedy of life is for an individual not to find that talent….I encourage you to change, to step up, expand your vision, and discover your talent.  As you seek your talent and channel your love of learning, you will discover one of man’s greatest abilities—to think.”   Bruce Buchanan [slightly edited].
  • “Some of the world’s most productive soils in the upper Midwest were formed after primeval bulldozing and mixing of rocks and soils by glaciers 20,000 years ago.  They developed, gradually, into deep and productive soils dominated by a prairie grass ecosystem.  In many ways, soil development after surface mining is similar.  The low Midwest, including southern Illinois, escaped rejuvenation by glacier dozing, and has timeworn, unproductive fragipan and claypan soils, which are chiefly forested.  Surface mining has produced soils with mixtures of fine-textured material and rapidly-weathering coarse fragments from lower rock layers, and these new soils have been shown to be much more productive than the native soils.”  W. Clark Ashby in an article that I highly recommend. 
  • “restoration of prime farmland [after mining], the first area reclaimed in Kentucky, if not the U.S., was successful.  The yields of all crops tested (alfalfa, corn, grain sorghum, tall fescue, and wheat) met yield requirements for Phase III bond release, as specified by the regulations associated with SMACRA.”  Richard Barnshisel. 


BLM Mined Land Reclamation

A comprehensive manual on mine reclamation is probably a pipe dream.  The topic is too large and multi-disciplinary to get all the information in one volume.  Maybe an encyclopedia is required.  But paper books would soon be out of date.  Only an e-publication could potentially succeed.  Neither the volume discussed here, nor this piece goes any way towards achieving the ideal of an all-encompassing tome on mine reclamation.  But the volume I chanced on trawling the net is worth examining if you are interested in the basic principles of mine reclamation, particularly in the western parts of the United States. 


I refer to the e-publication Draft Solid Minerals Reclamation Handbook (2001) put out by the United State Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  The purpose of the manual is “to provide consistent guidelines and performance standards for reclamation of and closure of non-coal solid mineral activities on Federal and Indian Lands.”  The purpose of reclamation as envisaged in the manual is “to shape, stabilize, revegetate or otherwise treat disturbed areas in order to provide a self-sustaining and productive use of the land in conformance with the land-use plan. Short-term reclamation goals are to stabilize disturbed areas and to protect both disturbed and adjacent areas from unnecessary or undue degradation.” 


The manual spends time on the authority and administrative procedures to follow in reclaiming mine-disturbed lands—these may be relevant if you have a mine that falls within the purview of the BLM.  If your mine is not regulated by BLM, you can skip these sections and proceed apace to the sections on reclamation of site access, surface water management, groundwater protection, pit lakes, waste dump design, covers, leachate and acid rock drainage treatment, pit backfill, underground closure, radionuclide reclamation, and revegetation. 


To give you some idea of the tone and treatment of topics in the manual, I quote the following on pit backfill. 


“Where feasible, backfilling of pits should be considered as an element of reclamation.  Advantages of backfilling include improved visual resources and public safety, increased post-mining land productivity, and, in some cases, the elimination of dangerous and/or potentially toxic pit lakes.  Where pits are not backfilled, the operator should present adequate documentation to show that backfilling is not feasible, including discussion of the options that allow independent evaluation of the decision not to backfill.  Where backfilling is not performed, consideration should be given to highwall modification to enhance wildlife habitat.  In addition, large pits require safety berming and fencing, which require perpetual maintenance and may not adequately deter access by humans and wildlife.” 


The manual reminds us that NEPA EISs may be required.  It may be argued that the following constitute ARARs to any mine EIS.  I quote again from the manual. 


“NEPA evaluation of backfilling option should include consideration of the following:

  • Health and value of the affected resources
  • Compliance with Federal and State laws
  • Assurance against pollution of water resources
  • Provision for protection of human safety and health
  • Consideration of the other consequences of backfilling, such as energy use, noise, dust, etc.
  • Development of reasonable measures to protect the scenic scientific and environmental values of the impacted area
  • Providence of secondary land use of the open pit after mining, such as raptor and other wildlife habitat. 


Alternatives to conventional pit backfilling include:

  • Sequential backfilling where old pits are used as a repository for waste rock generated during the excavation of a new pit. This is possibly only when pits are close together and worked sequentially.
  • Shooting down of highwalls to increase landform stability and improve visual resources
  • Construction of raptor habitat.”


I enjoyed and learnt a bit from the long section on underground mine closure—seems as though it was written by an erudite author, or at least one with practical experience.  A good number of interesting guidelines and issues raised in that chapter. 


I would leave aside the chapter dealing with uranium mine close; better see the NRC documents on this issue. 



A recent report (June 2006) makes fascinating reading and instructive reporting.  I refer to the Reclamation Feasibility Report Henson Creek Watershed (June 2006) put out by the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Division of Minerals and Geology. The report was prepared as part of an evaluation of the impact of drainage from mines in the Henson Creek watershed and the potential impact of mine drainage on the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River I Hinsdale County in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado.


Prospecting began in Hinsdale County in 1860.  Mining began in 1871.  There are numerous inactive mines in the Henson Creek watershed, but no active mines. 


Both natural and mining related metal loadings affect water quality in Henson Creek.  The report describes work done to quantify the contribution by natural and mining sources.  Total zinc and manganese were chosen as the indicator metals.  Reasons include the presence of zinc and manganese in the adit drainage of all the mines surveyed, the correlation of zinc and manganese with other heavy metals of concern, and because of the “conservative” nature of these metals. 


The report concludes: a maximum of 35 percent of the zinc load in Hanson Creek is from mining waste; six percent of the zinc is from adits; a maximum of three percent of the manganese in Hanson Creek is from mining wastes; and 30 percent of the manganese is from adits.  The report concludes that the majority of the metal loading is therefore from natural sources. 


To address the mining-related contributions, the report makes recommendations for each site.  Seven of the 23 sites surveyed are recommended for no action at this time, thirteen waste rock piles are recommended for reclamation, five of the 23 sites are recommended for adit discharge reclamation, seven for further investigation.  Here are some of the specific recommendations that caught my attention: 


  • Due to the inaccessibility of both dumps by road access, reclamation of the two waste piles is questionable.  The Hoffman site would require crossing an expanse of tundra, while the Engineer site could be accessed from above.  Both dumps could be reclaimed with limestone amendments or subsurface burial.  The Engineer site would require extensive up-slope handling with a dragline.  The measurablity of this measure on water quality would not be cost effective. 


  • Because of the natural amelioration which occurs from DM-7, no reclamation or treatment of water drainage from the Chicago tunnel is recommended at this time.  Zinc removal could be increased through the addition of limestone to the bog/beaver pond area.  Because of poor access, this would have to be done by hand or helicopter.  The potential negative impacts to the biology of the bog area outweigh any potential benefits to water quality. 


  • The Hanna Mill site has not been reclaimed because it is on private land.  The current landowner has chosen not to reclaim the site because the site is slated to be the location of a mountain cabin.  The land owner plans to use the flat area of the mill building foundation and associate waste rock as a foundation.  The foundation will be poured concrete, which would help to immobilize some of the metal in the waste rock pile.  If landownership changes, recommended reclamation of this site would either be to remove the waste rock to the Ute-Ule repository or to create an on-site repository and revegetate. 


  • The Excelsior waste rock pile is a seasonal source of heavy metals to Hanson Creek.  The recommended site reclamation is to remove the waste from the drainage, and dispose of the materials in an excavated area on the slope west of the mine. 


  • The reclamation recommended for this site is to divert the drainage from the spring above by constructing a ditch around the waste pile.  This can probably be accomplished by hand methods. 



A good story with a happy ending; a testimony to what can be achieved; congratulations.  These positive thoughts came to mind when I saw this piece on the wire this morning. I quote: “Meridian Gold Inc is pleased to announce that the Company's past producing Beartrack Mine has been selected to receive two awards for the Company's excellence in its reclamation process in Salmon, Idaho. The Bureau of Land Management's 2006 Hardrock Mineral Environmental Award recognizes effective environmental stewardship. Meridian Beartrack was chosen due to the Company's demonstrated track record of successfully meeting or exceeding federal, state or local reclamation requirements with minimal oversight.”

I have been to the mine, and have previously written this: The most beautiful mine in the United States (in my opinion) soars the high hills of the Idaho Continental Divide. To reach the site, you drive for an hour through pristine forest, green in the summer, white in the winter. The black granite talus slopes plunge to the road as the truck veers and slides the mud and snow.

At 7,000 feet in the crystal air and cold sun, the mill and the process plant glisten. Inside is that chaos and cornucopia of metal, fluid, and noise. Calmly presiding over all this is Adam Whitman, a thirty-something metallurgical engineer. He has a degree in metallurgical engineering and a master of business management (MBA) from Montana Tech. He lives in a Victorian house and leaves the quiet of the town for corporate deliberations in Reno and Las Vegas with misgiving. His daily round is meeting with the technicians and laborers who keep the plant operating, consultants, and regulators.. He subscribes to Infomine and reads my technical articles so that he is, to use his words, “informed and ahead of those he must manage, control, and influence.” He currently is seeking solutions to these issues: will reverse osmosis work; are wetlands effective in cold weather; why has that valve stuck again—should buy a new one; how do we justify next year’s budget; who will replace the guy who has just resigned; and so on.

Here is his description of his work and objectives (his words): Combining desired efficiencies for low-cost production, managing persons from both a higher and lower management status, reaching compromise between the goals of the budget and operational desires, understanding, overseeing, and interpreting laboratory analysis to meet or improve upon desired cost, extraction, or regulatory compliance goals. Uncompromising compliance with environmental laws and safety, while pursuing production needs. My job is much more than technical knowledge, but involves combining technical knowledge with interpersonal relationship building, communication, cost management, and logistical management to achieve the desired end result

His technicians are a happy group. They willingly help me dig test pits, collect soil samples, ship drums of rock to out-of-state laboratories, plot contours on computers, collate reports, and find something to eat because I forgot to bring a lunch-pack. They take time off from their regular jobs of adjusting the mill and process equipment, replacing warn parts, dealing with vendors, and maintaining security systems in the lonely hills. You can see why the mine deserves its award.

I have met and been honored to work with other from Meridian. Here are brief impressions and their replies to questions I posed them and which they have been kind enough to answer.

Edgar Smith: His intense energy and penetrating questions have left me gasping for facts and figures to support recommendations, but I have always felt like a professional in working with him. He appears to have a talent for focusing on the key issue and driving forward to a solution. Rather than write more, I asked him to explain how he got involved in Beartrack and what his vision is for the long-term future of the site.

To conclude: I am guilty of association with Meridian. I am guilty of admiration for what they do. I will watch in anticipation as they proceed, and I wish them more such awards.



 “What other abandoned mined land site can boast of being an operating landfill, a growing community recreational center, the site of a world championship racing event, and the site of an NCAA Championship event?  The reclaimed Victory Mine Site was once a barren and eroded abandoned mine refuse area that created sedimentation and acid mine drainage problems into an adjacent stream.  The site was also used as a trash disposal area for years and an open mine entry presented a hazard to human safety.  Today the site is a major community recreation area and the location for local, national, and world sports events.  The site has come a long way in the last few years and the story is remarkable.”


Thus begins the submission of reclamation of the Victory Mine for the Indiana Abandoned Mine Reclamation Award for 2003.   I do not know if this mine site reclamation won in 2003, but I do know that it is worth reading the submission for indeed “the story is remarkable.”  The submission provides the details of the site’s use and abuse over the years during which coal was mined, the mined out area used for waste disposal, and the area allowed to erode and contaminate streams.  Then reclamation work was put in place and today the area is, as noted in the paragraph quoted above, and area used and enjoyed by the community.  I leave you to read the details; the text and photos will reward your time. 



A useful checklist of items to consider when estimating the cost of closure of a mine is provided by Nevada at this link.   The document is the Mine Plan of Operations Reclamation Bond Checklist. 


Items listed include: 


  • Reclamation plans and specifications
  • Drill hole abandonment
  • Access roads and drill pads
  • Waste and development rock piles
  • Dams for tailings ponds
  • Impoundments for tailings
  • Heaps from leaching
  • Solution ponds, settling ponds, and other non-tailings impoundments
  • Building foundations, facilities, structures, and other equipment
  • Open pit mines
  • Underground mines
  • Revegetation
  • Supervision
  • Site maintenance and site monitoring
  • Contractor administrative overhead
  • Contractor profit
  • Lead agency overhead


New Jersey

If ever proof were needed that a mine closure plan is needed and that this plan should include some form of post-closure care, the following story provides it. This is from the EPA:

“Furthering the progress toward cleaning up the Ringwood Mines and protecting the surrounding community, EPA today restored the Ringwood Mines/Landfill site in New Jersey to its Superfund National Priorities List of the country’s most contaminated sites. EPA restored the site to the list because contaminated material was discovered since the site was originally taken off the list. EPA has since directed the Ford Motor Company to renew the cleanup and this has led to investigations of the ground water, surface water and sediment, and the removal of over 17,000 tons of waste. The Agency continues to direct and oversee cleanup activities at and around the site.

“I made a commitment to the community that this site would be put back on the Superfund list, and this is the last step in that process,” said Regional Administrator Alan J. Steinberg. “Thanks to EPA Administrator Steve Johnson this site got the highest level of attention and we were able to get it restored to the list quickly. While cleanup work has been progressing all along, now that this is an official Superfund site, the community can apply for grant funds to obtain technical assistance to help them better evaluate the ongoing work at the site.”

EPA is currently overseeing several investigations at the site and the continuing removal of paint sludge. These investigations will help to identify additional areas of contamination that may not be visible from the surface as well as ground water sampling in various parts of the site. The goal of these investigations is to better understand the nature and extent of the contamination at the site to make sure all potential sources are addressed.

The Ringwood Mines/Landfill site is located in an historic iron mining district in Passaic County, New Jersey. The site spans 500 acres and includes abandoned mine shafts, pits, inactive landfills, and open waste dumps. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the site was used for various periods of time by the Borough of Ringwood, Ford and others (including illegal third-party dumpers) for the disposal of a large variety of waste materials including commercial and municipal wastes, abandoned cars, appliances, paint sludge and other miscellaneous waste and debris.”



“Nearly one of every ten people in Pennsylvania lives within one mile of a dangerous abandoned mine.”  This statistic from a press release about reclamation at one of these many mines.  The essentials of the scheme: 

·       Construct a mine drainage treatment facility to treat upto 1,000 gallons per minute of acidic discharge from long-abandoned underground mines.

·       Replace the community baseball fields currently on the site with a modern multi-sport recreation facility to be built on approximately 10 acres of abandoned mine land closer to the community and donated by the responsible mining company. 


Go to this link for more on Pennsylvania mines and in particular the Bureau of Mining and Reclamation.


Utah Mine Reclamation

This volume is the best primer on Mine Reclamation I have yet come across:  The Practical Guide to Reclamation in Utah. I can find no date on the e-file at the link; the guide talks of “at the start of the new millennium” and the latest reference date is 1998, so maybe it comes from the early 2000’s.  Regardless of when it was written, it should be your first stop on a tour of mine reclamation reading, even if your mine is not in Utah.


With over 160 pages of well-written, clear and logical text, this guide covers mine-reclamation topics including: shaping the land--visual considerations; reclaiming waterways—drainage reclamation and streambank bioengineering; handling soils; and revegetation.  And that is just Part 1 of the guide.  Part 2 includes fifteen Technique Sheets that provide practical guidelines to reclamation activities including: surface roughening; erosion control; check dams; and sediment ponds. 


Here are some observations from the guide that caught my attention:

  • In many areas of Utah, slopes are strewn with boulders of various sizes.  Reclaimed slopes, no matter how well they blend in form, will be conspicuous if they are lacking in texture created by such boulders.  The same is true of texture differences created by lack of proper surface roughening or an overly simple and even distribution of vegetation.
  • When dealing with unconsolidated materials such as waste and tailings piles, the straight slopes should be graded to respond to the contours of the area.  Generally, the straight slopes should be curved and irregular in both plan and profile. 
  • The final surface [of a cover] should have surface roughness to improve retention of seed and soil, while minimizing erosion.  The surface roughness may increase retention and infiltration of precipitation until a sufficient amount of vegetation has grown.  These opposing concepts of water retention versus water shedding will need to be balance on the basis of site-specific conditions. 
  • A person familiar with fluvial processes should design perennial and intermittent channel reclamation.   Familiarity with geomorphology, channel and meander geometry, and the natural tendencies for channel adjustment to stability is needed to predict the most effective design for long-term stability and function. 


And so on.  I cannot possibly do the guide total justice, so if the topic interests you, download it, read it, enjoy it, and implement it. 


Utah Abandoned Mines Program

This is a valuable reference if you mine in Utah.  And it is valuable if you are simply interested in the story of mining in Utah, the abandoned mines in Utah, and what one state is planning to do to address conditions that impact water resources. 


I refer to the 2005 volume Nonpoint Source Management Plans for Abandoned Mines in Utah published by Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Water Quality. 


There are some 17,000 to 20,000 abandoned mines in Utah.  As the management plan notes, pollution from these mines is widespread, diverse, and probably contributes to impairment of the quality of water in numerous streams in the State.  Without intervention, most sites will not return to their pre-mining state, and it may take decades and even centuries for natural processes to return non-point discharge from the sites to non-impacting levels.  To do something is, however, difficult due to the complex and overlapping jurisdictional, legal, political, and economic issues involved. 


The management plan sets out to start a process of action.  Its most generally applicable contribution to the wider mining industry is a summary of the Best Management Practices for addressing situations commonly encountered at abandoned mines.


Other content in the management plan of general interest is information about the location of mines and mining districts in Utah, the topography, climate, vegetation, and landownership of Utah.  All these data are presented in high quality maps.  Of more local interest is the information about the regulatory processes and departments involved in mining in Utah.  Overall, this is a well produced volume, of general interest to those involved with mining, abandoned mines, reclamation, and activities in Utah. 



Now there is only one document you need to read to get most of the story about the Midnite Mine in Washington State.  You may have heard of the Dawn Mining Company, uranium production in Washington, the role of the Spokane Indians in mining, and the seemingly interminable controversy about how to close the mine.  I have followed the story on and off for years.  Now the Midnite Mine Superfund Site, Spokane Indian Reservation, Washington, Record of Decision has been issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is available on line.   If your interests run to the very difficult issues involved in mine reclamation, the legal process in the United States, uranium mine and mill closure, and aboriginal relations, this document is a “must-read case history”.


At nearly 250 pages long, I cannot begin to summarize the wealth of detail in this ROD.  Suffice it to note here that the selected remedy includes:

  • Containment of mine waste in pits.
  • Water collection and treatment.
  • Residuals management.
  • Surface water sediment management.
  • Monitored natural attenuation of groundwater.
  • Institutional controls and access restriction.
  • Long-term site management.
  • Contingent action planning. 


A sad part of the story that is told in this somewhat edited quote:

  • “In 1991, Dawn submitted a reclamation plan.  This plan was not accepted by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
  • In 1996, Dawn produced a revised reclamation plan.  BLM considered the revised plan sufficient for inclusion as one of the several reclamation options to be evaluated under NEPA following additional site studies.
  • In 1998, negotiations involving the Department of the Interior (DOI), EPA, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) led to an interim agreement between DOJ, DOI, EPA, Dawn, and Newmont. 
  • Dawn and Newmont fulfilled the terms of the Interim Agreement [by conducting] field work in 1999 and 2000, followed by reporting in 2000 and 2001.
  • Negotiations with Dawn in 1999 to conduct a Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study (RI/FS) were unsuccessful, leading to an RI/FS conducted and funded by EPA.
  • EPA performed the RI/FS from 1999 to 2006. 
  • In 2005, the United States filed a claim against Newmont and Dawn Mining for response cost incurred at the Site.” 


Wisconsin Mine Reclamation

 “Successful reclamation means the restoration of all areas disturbed by mining activities including aspects of the mine itself, waste disposal areas, buildings, and roads and utility corridors.  It is the product of thorough planning and execution of a well conceived reclamation plan.  Restoration means returning of the site to a condition that minimizes erosion and sedimentation, supports productive and diverse plant and animal communities and allows for the desired post-mining land use.” 


Thus begins the Wisconsin Mining Information Fact Sheet Reclamation and long-Term Care Requirements for Metallic Mining Sites in Wisconsin.  This fact sheet and the following can be accessed at this link. 


  • The Permitting Process for a Metallic Mineral Mine.
  • How the Department of Natural Resources Regulates Metallic Mining.
  • Protecting Groundwater at Metallic Mining Sites.
  • Local Decisions in Metallic Mining Projects.
  • Addressing Public Concerns with Wisconsin’s Laws Regarding Metallic Mining.
  • Wisconsin’s Net Proceeds Tax on Metallic Mining and Distribution of Funds to Municipalities.
  • Cumulative Impacts of Metallic Mining Developments in Northern Wisconsin.


Taken together, these fact sheets present an interesting survey of mining activities and requirements in a state not normally thought of as a leading mining community.  Thankfully the fact sheets are brief, but informative.  For example the fact sheet that is the subject of this piece manages in a mere seven pages to summarize all the relevant issues involved in mine reclamation, setting out the basic requirements for a Mine Reclamation Plan.  Take a look at this for a basic check list.