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Piles of waste coal in Wellington City and along the banks of a tributary creek to Scofield Reservoir will be cleaned up in 2011 with a $4.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Funding will go to the Utah Department of Oil, Gas and Mining's abandoned-mine reclamation program, which handles safety and environmental issues left by thousands of old mines in the state.

Nationally, the Interior Department made available $395 million to 28 states and American Indian tribes to conduct coal cleanup projects.

Funding comes from a per-ton reclamation fee levied on coal that is mined in the United States. Allocations are based on production in each state or American Indian reservation.

Chris Rohrer, an environmental scientist in the abandoned-mine program, is overseeing the Wellington project. It is designed to remove roughly 40,000 tons of waste coal from a 17-acre site within Carbon County city's boundaries and to transform the hole that's left into a community fishing pond.

"We're working on an old-coal processing, loading and washing facility abandoned in the 1950s," said Rohrer. "There's still a lot of coal waste on the ground, from 8 to 10 inches in some places to a couple of feet deep. It's a mess, and we'll be cleaning that."

Once a disposal site is secured, he added, waste removal and the preparation of the foundation for a city park should begin in early summer.

In late summer, when water levels are low, the division will start removing coal dumped along the banks of Pondtown Creek, a couple of miles north of Scofield Reservoir.

"When the mine was operating, they just dumped coal on the creek banks," Rohrer said, noting that the cleanup will protect water quality in the reservoir, a source of drinking water for Price.

The federal funding also will be used to help division staff members revisit older reclamation projects to see what condition they are in.

"We have mine closures that may have failed, been vandalized or had erosion problems," he said. "We're making sure that what we did 15 or even 25 years ago actually worked, and if there are problems, to remedy them."

Rohrer said Utah's allocation is about $600,000 more than the state received last year. But the spike is expected to be temporary, with Utah returning soon to "baseline" funding of $1.5 million a year.

Cleanup projects have significant economic benefits, said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

"In the past three years alone, [we have] distributed more than a billion dollars in these funds to state and tribes."

Salazar cited a 2009 department study that showed projects undertaken with $298 million in abandoned mine grants had a cumulative economic impact of $733 million. The grants were directly responsible for creating 3,300 jobs, he added.

Coal cleanup

Utah's allocation of $4.2 million to clean up abandoned coal sites is small compared with other coal-mining states:

Wyoming • $133 million

West Virginia • $51 million

Pennsylvania • $48 million

Kentucky • $38 million

Illinois • $17 million

Indiana • $13 million

Montana • $12 million

Colorado • $7.3 million

New Mexico • $4.6 million

Source: U.S. Department of Interior —

Earth Day awards

The Utah Board of Oil, Gas and Mining is eager to honor miners who and companies that "protect the environment while developing Utah's natural resources." Nominees will be considered for Earth Day awards. › C2