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Reclaiming steep-slope coal mines in the eastern US for successful reforestation

Mining Engineering , 2011, Vol. 63, No. 12, pp. 55-62

Kumar, D.; Sweigard, R. J.


A methodology has been developed and demonstrated to be effective in reclaiming surface-mined land for a forestry post-mining land use. The forestry reclamation approach (FRA) has been applied, almost exclusively, to flat or gently rolling surfaces. One of the primary steps in the FRA is to loosely grade the top 1.22 m (4 ft) of soil or substitute root growth medium to avoid excessive compaction. Concern has been expressed by regulators and the public that loose grading on steep slopes (i.e., greater than 23°) could lead to slope failures, which is one of the issues that the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) sought to correct. A field investigation was conducted at a steep-slope contour operation in eastern Kentucky to test the applicability of FRA in this setting. Final grading was performed according to FRA standards. The surface consisted of two distinct substitute rooting media. One was unweathered gray sandstone and the other was a combination of gray sandstone, brown sandstone, and topsoil. A variety of native hardwoods was planted following the FRA guidelines. The slope was instrumented with 70 survey monuments to monitor for mass movement. The reclaimed spoil was also characterized using bulk density and penetrometer resistance methods. The characteristics of both spoils are similar to those observed on flat to rolling surfaces where the FRA has been used and, after one year, approximately 70% of the trees had survived. During this first phase of investigation, there has been no major mass movement of the slope and slope stability analysis indicates that the application of the FRA has little impact on the overall stability of the slope.