Surface Mining and Reclamation
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Lorena Butte mine, near Goldendale, extracting cinder and basalt. Photo credit: Carrie Gillum, DGER.

Surface mining reclamation restores vegetation, soil stability, and proper water conditions after mining. Each site will be completed differently depending on the future use and reclamation law. However, the work completed prevents future environmental degradation and prepares the site for its future use.

after
before

Hover your mouse over the photo to see 2005 mining and subsequent wetland reclamation in 2013 of the Fjetland sand and gravel pit, near the port of Tacoma. Imagery courtesy of Google Earth.

Good reclamation allows for proper future use and it limits environmental impacts. It is expected that surface miners do what’s called ‘segmental reclamation’, where they restore portions of the mine while other areas continue to be worked. This helps reduce the cost of reclamation at the end of mining. It also restores the site to its ultimate condition much more quickly.

Wetland creation at the former Fjetland sand and gravel pit, near Tacoma.
Home of the 2015 U.S. Open, Chambers Bay was once the Steilacoom sand and gravel pit, one of the nation's largest.

Poor reclamation leads to unusable and unattractive sites. They can create issues well beyond their location, such as muddy water flowing into streams or unstable land.

This unreclaimed site that shall remain nameless has vertical walls and no vegetation.
This site, also nameless, is home to many invasive species, with many areas lacking vegetation and eroding slopes.

What is the Surface Mine Reclamation Program?

The Surface Mine Reclamation Program (SMRP) is part of the Division of Geology and Earth Resources within the Department of Natural Resources. The program was created in 1971 after the legislature created the Surface Mining Act.

The SMRP makes sure that all lands and waters within the state are protected and reclaimed after mining is complete. It also provides consistent regulation of both permitted and unpermitted surface mines statewide.

The SMRP monitor surface mines and issue reclamation permits. Monitoring for compliance is usually performed by on-site inspection. Aerial photography is frequently used as well to document mining activity.

When Do I Need a Surface Mine Reclamation Permit?

The Surface Mining Act requires a surface miners to get a permit when (1) the intent is to be a surface mine or (2) removal of minerals results in:

  • more than three acres of disturbed area
  • mined slopes greater than thirty feet high and steeper than 1.0 foot horizontal to 1.0 foot vertical
  • more than one acre of disturbed area within an eight acre area, from mineral prospecting or exploration activities

Some exemptions to the law include the use of materials or equipment for:

  • on-site construction, road maintenance, landfill construction
  • public safety or restoring the land following a natural disaster
  • removing stockpiles
  • forest or farm road construction or maintenance at the site or on contiguous lands

How Does the Program Maintain Compliance with the Surface Mining Act?

SMRP staff work closely with stakeholders to ensure they are compliant with the Surface Mining Act. Inspections of known mines are performed every one to two years. Inspectors document the progress of mining and reclamation making sure it is consistent with their permit.

If the mine is found to be out of compliance with the law, a notice of correction is issued. Program staff work with the miners to fix the problem. If the miners do not correct the issues, further formal notice is given and enforcement may occur. Penalty for not fixing problems with a site may lead to stop work orders, civil penalties, and (or) fines.