Mine Reclamation Expert Opines on Geological Damage

    Mining Expert WitnessThis case involves a dispute over a large portion of land that was leased for surface mining. The landowner was approached by a firm asking for a land lease to perform surface mining. The landowner agreed to the land lease on the condition that stone removal would only be allowed for 3 months before he reclaimed the land. When the land was returned to the landowner, they discovered irreversible geological damage to his property. An expert in the land reclamation process was sought to explain how mine-surfaced land is reclaimed and discuss the effect reclamation has on the value of the land.

    Question(s) For Expert Witness

    • 1. Please explain your experience with land reclamation.
    • 2. Are you familiar with the process for reclaiming land after surface mining is performed?
    • 3. How does mining affect the value of the land and the ability to build on it?

    Expert Witness Response E-088807

    My relevant experience includes reclamation as part of mine planning for numerous surface mines in eastern and western US, federal lands, and private lands under lease royalty agreements. I have created detailed reclamation plans for limestone and marble quarries, and have been responsible for plan execution. I have also conducted lease negotiations with landowners requiring reclamation plans. I’m familiar with the overall process for land reclamation including the technical aspects, excavation scheduling, cost analysis, permits and bond requirements.

    Bear in mind that there is not a single formula for reclaiming all sites, and not all results will be the same. The process and practice is controlled by geological and groundwater conditions. Reclamation is site specific but does follow standards of practice. The overriding principle of mine reclamation is to create a post-mining surface that provides the highest and best use of the land, and which is compatible with geological and groundwater conditions, and also local/regional ordinances. Lessor expectations for what constitutes reclamation my be very different from economic and geotechnical realities. The paradigm of creating real sellable property over a reclaimed quarry should be balanced with the possible hazards of such an undertaking in some areas, and the lack of sufficient overburden to completely backfill the quarry in other areas. Where the landowner is left with a water-filled pit, the highest and best post-mining value may be of a recreational nature–it’s a different point of view on value, and is commonly viewed as a form of reclamation (sports, wildlife, habitat). An important question is if the landowner(s) received royalties on sales of the mined materials.

    Using reclaimed quarries for real estate should only be undertaken after a careful engineering study. Many quarries that I’ve been involved with have been repurposed for wildlife wetlands, future recreational lakes, and potential subdivision development. As far as the timing of reclamation, it is incumbent on the quarry operator to meet the reclamation deadline if that is clearly and unconditionally stated in the original lease. If the lease document does not contain specifics on the method and design of reclamation (a map, for example), then there might be a problem for the quarry operator.

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