Grants hope to turn old mines into job-creators

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HARLAN, Ky. (WTVQ) – Grants were approved Friday that groups hope will turn old, abandoned coal mines into new job creators in three towns in Kentucky and one each in Pennsylvania and Alabama.

The Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition organization announced the rants, the first by the coalition, which helped the Kentucky communities seek funding from the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

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The partners and projects selected are:

Backroads of Appalachia: Reclaiming Mine Lands and Boosting Economic Development through Motorsports Tourism. Lynch, KY.

Backroads of Appalachia is a non-profit in Kentucky bringing economic development and opportunity to Appalachia through destination tourism in the form of motorcycling, motorsports and tourism. Backroads was awarded a mini-grant to support their work with local governments and community members in Harlan County to investigate creative ways to reclaim and repurpose blighted structures in Lynch, KY remaining from the United States Coal & Coke Company, which built the town in 1917. Backroads will work with community members to develop AML Pilot applications to transform neglected liabilities into economic assets.

The Nature Conservancy: The Cumberland Forest Project. Middlesboro, KY.

The Nature Conservancy in Kentucky was awarded a mini-grant to assist in planning and feasibility regarding outdoor recreation development and water quality improvement on its Cumberland Forest Project (CFP) land. Specifically, the mini-grant will help to provide an economic impact assessment of the Middlesboro Trail Town; provide mapping support to identify links between existing trail systems and new Middlesboro trails; assess AML reclamation potential on the CFP property; and provide mapping support to best site new trails while minimizing water quality impacts of those trails.

Bay Point Capital Partners: The Wilds of Emily Creek. Lovely, KY.

Bay Point Capital Partners received a mini-grant to support recreational business development project for the Wilds of Emily Creek. The project includes the development of a 5-mile trail system tied to lodging areas of the recreation areas; the construction of 20 wilderness cabins; and the development of a 50-space RV/camping park. The Wilds are located at a mine site in Martin and Pike Counties, consisting of a number of high walls and abandoned buildings.

Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation (EPCAMR): Large-Scale Solar Development on Historic Mines in Eastern Pennsylvania. Ashley, PA

Cawaco Resource Conservation & Development Council, Inc.: Alabama

Rivers and Streams Network Runway for Reclamation. Birmingham, AL

“The investments made in Alabama and Pennsylvania represent the coalition’s effort to expand its community of practice into other Appalachian states, and the investments made in Kentucky represent a reaffirmation of our commitment to land-reuse projects there,” said Joey James, principal at Downstream Strategies. “The projects selected for the mini-grant program are community-driven, place-appropriate forms of economic development that embrace the rapidly evolving economic and social conditions of our region.”

“EPCAMR is excited to have an opportunity to develop a site selection criteria tool to assist partners and private developers consider reclaimed abandoned mine lands in Pennsylvania for potential solar installations as alternative energy economic development projects,” said Bobby Hughes, Executive Director of EPCAMR and grant recipient. “We find it very valuable to now be able to network with other coalitions across Central Appalachia as we continue to educate our communities and community leaders on additional innovative ways to reclaim our historic legacy abandoned mine lands.”

The Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition is a collaboration of organizations, focused on sustainable development, in Central Appalachia: Appalachian Voices in Virginia, Appalachian Coalfield Development Corporation in West Virginia, and Rural Action in Ohio—and regional technical expert, Downstream Strategies. The coalition works with community partnerships, organizations, and local governments to help identify, develop, fund, and implement innovative, community-focused reclamation projects that create jobs.

The coalition has engaged hundreds of people and organizations in West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia, and its direct project assistance has resulted in several groundbreaking projects, totaling nearly $30 million in public and private investment in the states the organizations represent.

RAC and its mini-grant program are supported by the Just Transition Fund, New York Community Trust, and several other foundations. For more information on the Coalition and its work to reclaim and reuse Appalachia’s mine lands, visit ReclaimingAppalachia.org.