Today I visited two sites where construction is underway to address water quality and other issues on old mining properties that companies abandoned before conducting the required clean-up. When that happens, the Department of Environmental Protection takes over and uses the bond money the company posted when it obtained its mining permit to reclaim the site.
This site is in a "town" called Century, which, although it has a Main Street and a few others, appears to be just a handful of houses clustered together in a remote area without cell service, quite close to what used to be a fully functional coal mine. The trailer above sits just opposite the entrance to the site, which is unmarked except for a single metal gate near the entrance. Some say it was the largest mine in the state, but I learned today that some say that about nearly every mine in West Virginia, so I'm pretty sure that's not true.
Walk a few hundred feet past the entrance, and telltale signs reveal themselves. Part of the old mine shaft remains visible, though it is caved in and impassable, and the dirt the workers have disturbed bears the unmistakeable shade of acid mine drainage.
I met some engineers at the site, and we stood around the truck and looked at the site plans before taking a tour to inspect the progress.
The machine the mining company used to dredge this pond during operations still sits beside it. Over the last few weeks, workers have drained the pond as much as they can. Next, they will dig out the remaining water and acidic sludge and move it to another location to allow it to dry out and harden to the texture of regular dirt. The pond, once cleaned, will then be used for stormwater runoff.
The color is shocking in person and makes me think I'm in the middle of Yellowstone. But of course, I am not.
Truckers bring huge loads of rock and spread it in a drainage ditch to catch the water seeping from the site and channel it to the preferred location so it can't get into a creek.
I'm strangely comfortable standing outside around a truck, the only girl amongst a crowd of men in boots. Their outfits remind me of my dad. I grew up inspecting logging roads and sitting on tailgates, and so this all feels very familiar.
This "wetland" exists, I learned, as a result of the mining company's use of the land. Had they not been there, water would never have pooled in this way, and we would not see cattails in a random spot at the top of a hill, waving silently as frogs hop in and out of orange water.
Coal companies came and extracted a resource, bringing jobs in the process. They left a mess for someone else to clean up, and now people here have jobs simply because those companies did not fulfill their obligations. This "extract and run" strategy has left its mark in more ways than one. I believe it has shaped the way people here view the land, not as something to be maintained and cared for throughout time, but as something to use and abuse, as you might an old truck.
There is sadness and irony here, yet today left me feeling more a part of this place than my normal routine allows. In this space, having grown up in Doddridge County, the daughter of a logger, makes me a part of all this. Like a genuine West Virginian.