Projects vie for federal abandoned mine grant funds
Every year, Virginia receives $10 million from the federal government for projects to redevelop land that was home to abandoned coal mines.
This fall, 18 different projects applied for funding — all seeking to become models for coalfield communities recovering from the industry’s slow collapse. The applications received by Virginia’s Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) suggest a variety of paths forward, ranging from agriculture and outdoor recreation to expansion of broadband internet and job training.
“We’ve gotten some pretty innovative applications,” says department spokesperson Tarah Kesterson. “Tourism is popular, as well as infrastructure and industrial development.”
The 2019 applications include a plan to build ATV trails connecting different Southwest communities, as well as proposals to grow industrial hemp, erect a 50,000-square-foot greenhouse, build outdoor adventure destinations, expand broadband and other utilities, and more. Numerous proposals seek to use development of former mine sites to build tourist attractions, whether by expanding lodging options or making the attractions easier to access.
Virginia first participated in the pilot program in 2017, when it received 15 applications, five of which were selected to receive portions of the state’s $10 million share of funding provided by the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. In 2018, the state funded 10 projects selected from 19 applications.
The 2018 winners included nearly $500,000 to expand the off-road, ATV-oriented Spearhead Trails in Wise and Russell counties, including $222,000 for the trail between St. Paul and Coeburn and another $269,000 to redevelop a community site in the coal company town of Dante and link it to the ATV trail network.
Russell County Supervisor Lou Wallace says the award will be layered onto a $215,000 brownfield grant from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership to remove an asbestos-laced school building, mitigate lingering coal waste and reconstruct the site as a campground that’s tied into the Spearhead Trails system.
“This DMME money will add ATV trails to connect Dante to almost 100 miles of trails to St. Paul and Coeburn,” Wallace says. “We’ll be able to showcase the rich cultural history of the whole region.”
Kesterson says the 2019 applications will be vetted by DMME’s abandoned mine land team, selected by an advisory council and approved by the federal Office of Surface Mining before they’re announced by the governor this spring.