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Alliance Aims to Transform Deserted Coal Mines into Viable Businesses

The Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition is planning to revamp a deserted coal mine in Morgantown, W. Va., into a composting facility. (Adobe Stock)
The Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition is planning to revamp a deserted coal mine in Morgantown, W. Va., into a composting facility. (Adobe Stock)
November 7, 2019

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – A coalition of development groups in central Appalachia aims to give new life to abandoned coal mines in the region by transforming them into sustainable, environmentally friendly businesses – many in poverty stricken areas.

A new report by the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition profiles 19 projects in development by the group.

One of them, in Morgantown, hopes to turn a strip-mine site into a composting facility, using food waste from nearby West Virginia University, according to Jacob Hannah, a conservation coordinator with the Coalfield Development Corporation, a member of the coalition.

"All of this will be done through a workforce development training session as well, helping people coming out of opioid recovery and training them in that new industry as well, sort of helping them transition back into the economy," he states.

Hannah says the West Virginia Reuse Center still needs full funding and, once completed, will be the first commercial composting business in the region, establishing an entirely new industry in central Appalachia.

Hannah says the Reuse Center is expected to cost a little more than $3 million and will contribute almost $2.5 million in earnings to employees.

It will provide 54 jobs, using what Hannah describes as a 33-6-and-3 model, meaning an employee will work 33 hours a week, then spend six hours of the week in school earning a degree and three hours a week with a mentor to re-equip people with life skills to succeed.

Hannah says the coalition is taking a chance on both the land and the residents.

"This coalition is really awfully very brave in taking on the risks and the unknowing nature of the kind of work that we're doing here in trying to create new solutions that aren't just lofty sounding in nature but also really life changing on the ground for people here," he states.

Since 2017, the coalition has built a range of businesses, including a fish farm, recycling plants and bike trails on former coal sites in West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service - WV