Department for Natural Resources
Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet Unveils Spoil Handling Protocol
A technical study group, created to analyze excess spoil fill construction, recently completed development of the Fill Placement Optimization Process (FPOP), a design protocol to minimize the impact on streams from mining operations while maintaining Approximate Original Contour (AOC). The group of engineers represented the Kentucky Department for Natural Resources (DNR), the Army Corps of Engineers, the mining industry, a citizen’s group, and the federal Office of Surface Mining (OSM). The goal was to develop an engineering spoil handling protocol that meets the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), AOC requirements and the alternatives analysis for minimizing stream impact required by the Clean Water Act.
The FPOP promises to reduce the number and size of excess spoil fills and minimize stream impacts from coal mining. These reductions are accomplished by returning more spoil to mining areas and selecting fill locations that will either avoid any stream impacts by disposing spoil on pre-law mine benches or minimize the length of the stream affected by shrinking the fill footprint in the watershed.
DNR has formalized the process in a Reclamation Advisory Memorandum (RAM 145) that will accomplish the following:
· Provide an objective process for achieving AOC while ensuring stability of backfill material and minimization of sediment to streams.
· Provide an objective process for minimizing the quantity of excess spoil that can be placed in excess spoil disposal sites such as valley fills.
· Minimize watershed impacts by ensuring compliance with environmental performance standards imposed by SMCRA.
· Minimize impacts to aquatic and terrestrial habitats.
· Provide an objective process for use in permit reviews, as well as field inspections during mining and reclamation phases.
· Maintain the flexibility necessary for addressing site specific mining and reclamation conditions that require discretion by the regulatory authority as intended by SMCRA and Congress.
“The Fill Placement Optimization Process developed for Kentucky mining operations will provide a consistent and comprehensive procedure that will be supported by federal review agencies, resulting in an efficient and timely permit application review,” said Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Len Peters. “This Kentucky protocol can be used as a template for other Appalachian coal states in developing alternative analyses and maximizing environmental protection.”
According to Joe Blackburn, Kentucky Field Office Director for OSM, “The protocol detailed in RAM 145 will have significant impacts on the way surface mining is conducted in steep slope areas of eastern Kentucky. It serves as an outstanding example of what can be achieved when state and federal regulatory agencies work together with environmental advocacy groups and the mining industry.”
DNR is moving forward with implementation and is hiring three engineers to review the enhanced permit applications.