Tomorrow marks a frustrating day for FOC staff and other organizations working to remediate acid mine drainage (AMD) impacted streams and rivers. On September 30, the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) fee collection expires, and halts a majority of the future funding FOC and WVDEP could use to treat AMD sources in the Cheat River watershed.
The Abandoned Mine Lands reclamation program fund, part of the Surface Mining Reclamation and Control Act of 1977 (SMCRA), authorizes the collection of fees on current coal producers on a per ton coal produced basis. Prior to tomorrow, the fee collection generated the pool of funding available to treat Priority 1, 2, and 3 AMD sites. Many of FOC’s current AMD treatment systems are built on Priority 2 and 3 sites.
Currently, the reauthorization of the AML program is wrapped up in the giant Energy Infrastructure bill, where $11.289 billion is slated for AML, but new regulations concerning the distribution of funding leaves many streams and rivers, including the Cheat, in the lurch.
In the opinion of FOC and many of our partners in AMD, the current version included in the bill is not adequate. It lowers the AML fee by 20%, gives too short of a timeframe to spend out the $11+ billion, doesn’t allow spending on Priority 3 sites – most of which are the AMD problem areas – and doesn’t allow states to put funds in their set-aside accounts that pay for the ongoing costs of AMD treatment.
This is a huge setback to the Cheat River. To put this into perspective, Lick Run Portals, a Priority 3 site, has been the lower Cheat watershed’s largest source of acidity for many years. If no amendments to the bill are passed, this AMD source, and so many others like it, will be left without a clear path forward for remediation. Also, limiting funding for water treatment puts existing long-term restoration projects like that on Muddy Creek at risk, as funding for ongoing operations and maintenance would be restricted.
Today, Friends of the Cheat was awarded $1.1 million by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) on behalf of the Mountaineer Trail Network Recreation Authority. The goal of this project is to formally launch the Mountaineer Trail Network as a collection of the best non-motorized trails in the eastern United States for bikes and boats.
Friends of the Cheat and its partners will solidify the newly established Mountaineer Trail Network Recreation Authority, an economic development authority created by the West Virginia Legislature in 2019 to oversee the creation, launch, and operation of the Mountaineer Trail Network.
The core work of this project focuses on developing a regional outdoor economy based on current (and largely undiscovered) trails in our 15-county service area (Barbour, Doddridge, Grant, Harrison, Lewis, Marion, Mineral, Monongalia, Preston, Randolph, Ritchie, Taylor, Tucker, Upshur, and Wood).
Over the next three years, the Authority will select four to eight existing, top-grade trail areas in northern West Virginia for inclusion in the Mountaineer Trail Network. POWER funds will be used to enhance and market these trail areas and nearby tourism businesses as a nationally- and world-renowned tourism destination for biking and boating.
Additional financial support for the Mountaineer Trail Network is provided by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the Just Transition Fund, the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, Visit Mountaineer Country Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), Greater Parkersburg CVB, Tucker County CVB, and Marion County CVB.
The project has in-kind support from 33 additional project partners, including 15 county commissions, five CVBs, three county economic development authorities, five county parks and recreation commissions, four state parks, West Virginia University’s Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative and Law School, and 14 trail organizations across the project area.
This award is part of a $46.4 million package supporting 57 projects across 184 coal-impacted counties through ARC’s POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) Initiative. POWER targets federal resources to communities affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries.
“The downturn of the coal industry has impacted economies across Appalachia. That’s why ARC’s POWER initiative helps to leverage regional partnerships and collaborations to support efforts to create a more vibrant economic future for coal-impacted communities,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin. “Many of the projects we announced today will invest in educating and training the Appalachian workforce, nurturing entrepreneurship, and supporting infrastructure—including broadband access. These investments in our Appalachian coal-impacted communities are critical in leveling the economic playing field so our communities can thrive.”
“This project will provide the marketing, organization, and tourism-focused business development needed to leverage these trails as the world-class assets they truly are,” said Friends of the Cheat Executive Director Amanda Pitzer. “This in turn will directly fuel opportunities for new business startups in tourism, lodging, dining, and other related sectors.”
About the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC)
The Appalachian Regional Commission (www.arc.gov) is an economic development partnership agency of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 420 counties across the Appalachian Region. ARC’s mission is to innovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia.
Since POWER launched in 2015, ARC has invested more than $287.8 million in 362 projects across 353 coal-impacted counties. The nearly $46.4 million awarded today is projected to create/retain over 9,187 jobs, attract nearly $519.5 million in leveraged private investments, and be matched by $59.2 million in additional public and private funds across the Region.
ARC is working with Chamberlin/Dunn LLC, a third-party research firm, to closely monitor, analyze, and evaluate these investments. A new report, published today in conjunction with the announcement, found that projects funded through POWER grants met or exceeded targets for jobs retained and/or created, businesses created, workers trained, and revenues increased. Chamberlin/Dunn is continuing to monitor POWER investments and make recommendations to ARC for ongoing programmatic efficiencies.