Lester Davis mine site before reclamation.
Lester Davis mine site after reclamation.

The public can now enjoy 38 acres of land in the Lester Davis State Memorial Forest that was previously the site of a coal mine thanks to cleanup efforts by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.  The reclamation project involved property owned by the Missouri Department of Conservation and two private property landowners.   The exact date of when mining ceased in this area is unknown, however Lester Davis began an organized tree planting program on the Lester Davis State Memorial Forest in 1951 according to the Missouri Department of Conservation, one of the stakeholders of the project.

The Lester Davis State Memorial Forest is located south of Prairie State Park in western Barton County and is owned and managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation.  The lower Weir-Pittsburg coal seam was mined extensively in the early to mid-1900’s in an area ½ to 3 miles wide next to the Kansas-Missouri State line near the town of Mindenmines north to Oskaloosa.  This included the area now known as Lester Davis State Memorial Forest.

During this period there were no mining laws or regulations to reclaim the lands to previous conditions or to protect the environment.  This resulted in a numerous barren mine spoils either devoid of vegetation or inhabited with invasive unwanted vegetation, including honeysuckle, cedars and serica lespedeza.  Most of these mine spoils were acidic and highly erosive which contributed to acid mine discharges and heavy sediment loads to nearby creeks and streams contributing to periodic fish kills.  Numerous water filled pits remained, some acidic in nature, unable to support fish or other aquatic life.  In addition, many of these water filled pits were located adjacent to state and county roads, posing a threat to public health and safety.

The project entailed clearing and grubbing mine spoils, backfilling three water filled pits located adjacent to a well-traveled county road, high quality lime was applied to a rock swale to neutralize acid forming materials prior to entering an unnamed tributaries which flows into the Second Nicholson Creek.  The area was then graded and shaped to a gently sloping topography to properly drain.  After final grading, approximately 2,100 tons of lime were spread and incorporated by ripping with a dozer to neutralize the acidic soils.  After liming was completed, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium fertilizer was applied at the rate of 75-160-100 per acre.  A temporary green cover crop consisting of Cereal and Perennial rye, along with Ladino Clover was seeded to add organic matter and to prevent erosion at the project site.  A permanent warm season grass/forb mix will be planted in the spring 2013 on 20 acres of the project.  The remaining acreage is scheduled to be permanently seeded to a cool season grass/legume mix in late summer 2013.  The reclamation project has added open vegetated areas to enhance wildlife habitat, improved hunting and fishing opportunities and aiding in reducing acid mine drainage from entering nearby waterways.

The Land Reclamation Program worked together with the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Division of State Parks, Office of Surface Mining, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, State Historic Preservation Office, Division of Geological Land Survey and private landowners to ensure everyone’ concerns were addressed.  Work started at the project on April 30, 2012 and was completed on Oct. 10, 2012.  The contract for the project was awarded to Double S Dirt Works Inc. in Liberal with the low bid of $472,477.  The total cost for the project was $460,553.  The money for this project comes from a tax on every ton of coal mined by active coal mines in the U.S.  These funds are distributed to the states according to the number of acres of previously mined lands.  Missouri is considered a minimum base state and currently receives $3 million a year for reclamation projects.  Missouri currently has only one active coal mine in operation, located near Hume.

The department's Abandoned Mine Land Unit has reclaimed and closed non-coal shafts related to past lead and zinc mining activities that are determined to be a serious health and safety hazard.  The Abandoned Mine Land Unit is also involved in remediating subsidence issues involving past underground coal mining activities.  Funds for subsidence issues are limited to filling or capping the subsidence hole or to stabilize the soils beneath the structure to minimize further damage.  Funds are not allowed to be expended for any structural repairs to the building or home.

In addition to the Abandoned Mine Land Unit, there are two other units in the Land Reclamation Program, the Industrial Minerals Unit and the Active Coal Mine Unit.  The Industrial Minerals Unit is responsible for the permitting, bonding, inspection and reclamation of all quarries, clay pits, sand gravel mining and waste management of metallic minerals.  The Coal Unit provides inspection and enforcement, bond forfeiture and liability release at coal sites.

Missouri enacted legislation in 1971 to offset the effects of mining by requiring coal companies to grade the mines spoils to a semi-level topography.  In 1977 the U.S. Congress enacted a comprehensive coal mine law, Public Law 95-97.  This law, also known as the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act placed heavy restrictions on the conduct of coal mining in the United States.