May 3, 2017 - A proposed federal spending bill that took shape in Congress over the weekend includes $10 million in funding for economic development projects to help communities in Southwest Virginia hit hard by the decline of the coal industry.
It's the first time Virginia has received funding through a congressional pilot program initiated last year aimed at cleaning up abandoned mine lands and redeveloping them for new economic activity. The program is modeled after the RECLAIM Act which was recently re-introduced in Congress.
Last year, Congress appropriated $30 million each for Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania for the pilot program. Under the omnibus spending bill unveiled today, those states would each get an additional $25 million, and Virginia, Ohio and Alabama would each receive $10 million.
Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-9th), who represents the far Southwest Virginia, has been an advocate of federal investment in the region. In addition, seven local government entities in Virginia's coal counties have passed unanimous resolutions supporting such investment for mine reclamation combined with economic development, starting with Norton, the first community in the country to do so.
'We are thrilled to see this funding come to Virginia for innovative mine reclamation that will have positive local impacts,' said Adam Wells, New Economy Program Manager in Appalachian Voices' Norton office. 'Virginia's inclusion is a direct result of the clear message from the resolutions of support passed by local governments in far Southwest Virginia. Going forward, it will be critical to make sure those same communities have a meaningful role in determining how this money will be spent.'
Last year, Appalachian Voices partnered with Gerald Collins, a professional engineer with 30 years in the coal industry, and others to inventory abandoned mine lands in Virginia and identify 14 sites with significant economic development potential as solar facilities, recreation areas, sustainable agriculture and other types of projects. The group found that for roughly $16 million in total reclamation costs these sites could yield up to $53 million in economic return.
'This is great news for the coal counties of Southwest Virginia,' said Collins, principal of Coal Mining Engineering Services. 'The potential projects in our study would be great candidates to receive these funds. In many instances, these projects leverage the efforts that localities have already undertaken with the hopes of finding more funding in the future. It appears that the time is now, and we stand ready to assist the Commonwealth of Virginia in launching projects which will give our local economies a real shot in the arm.'
Some examples from their report, 'Healing Our Land, Growing Our Future,' include: