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Nonmetallic mine reclamation plans

Mine reclamation

Reclamation in progress at a nonmetallic mine site in Kiel. Photo Courtesy: Richard Low.
Reclamation in progress at a nonmetallic
mine site in Kiel. Photo Courtesy: Richard Low.

Reclamation of nonmetallic mines protects the environment through reduced erosion and wildlife habitat allows productive end land uses and has the potential to increase land values and tax revenues. The statewide reclamation standards are performance-based, rather than prescriptive, and address the salvage and protection of topsoil, revegetation and other site stabilization methods and control of erosion.

All active mines must have valid reclamation permits, issued by the regulatory authority (RA) with jurisdiction for the mine site, unless exempt from NR 135, Wis. Admin. Code. New mines must apply for and receive a reclamation permit prior to beginning operations. The rules provide reasonable exemptions, such as for sites less than one acre, a pit on a farmer's land for personal use or excavations incidental to building construction.

A reclamation plan is the basis for granting a reclamation permit. It is a blueprint describing the steps that are necessary to reclaim the site to achieve a post-mining land use. The reclamation plan must demonstrate compliance with the uniform reclamation standards provided in NR 135 and provides environmental protection during and after the mining process.

Frequently asked questions

What is a reclamation plan?

The reclamation plan and any associated map(s) describe and/or delineate all acreage that will be subject to reclamation following the completion of extraction and mining activities. It provides the post-mining land use within the mine plan area and the methods of reclamation necessary to achieve the target post-mining land use. A reclamation plan must address the plan requirements laid out in ch. NR 135, Wis. Adm. Code.

The proposed post-mining land use will dictate the final slopes; drainage patterns; site hydrology; seed mixes; and the degree of removal of mining-related structures, drainage structures and sediment control structures.

An approved reclamation plan should be a flexible document. The best approach is to maximize flexibility by anticipating all areas likely to be mined as well as any minor changes to the operation and to write these into the reclamation plan. This may be preferable to developing a plan modification at a later date, which could result in unnecessary delays associated with plan review and perhaps a public hearing.

How do I comply with reclamation requirements when opening or reopening a nonmetallic mine site?

The first and most important thing you need to do is determine what you envision as a final, post-mining land use for your site. We suggest following these steps:

  1. Contact your county or local regulatory authority (RA) to get an application for a reclamation permit and any specific guidance or other instructions.
  2. Talk to local officials - many local governments already have visions for future land use.
  3. Survey the site and surrounding area-surrounding land uses will give you clues to the future use of a proposed or existing nonmetallic mine site.
  4. Create a vision - plans for extraction require a plan for reclamation. Decide on the proposed final land use and then, considering the specific attributes of the site, the nature of the proposed operation and the reclamation performance standards, develop a proposed reclamation plan. What do you see down the road 5, 10, 25 or 55 years?
  5. Submit the reclamation plan to the RA according to any applicable guidance that has been provided and any submittal deadlines agreed. For new or reopened sites, plan on submitting the reclamation plan at least 90 days before the date on which you would like to begin mining.
What is the connection between post-mining land use and the reclamation plan?

A proposed post-mining land use is key to determining the type and degree of reclamation needed to correspond with that proposed land use. The specific reclamation activities delineated in a plan are substantially dictated by the proposed final use in that the reclamation plan will describe how the disturbed area will be reclaimed and managed to achieve the designated use. The purpose of the reclamation plan is to achieve acceptable final site reclamation to the desired land use in compliance with the uniform reclamation standards. By working with local officials and through good communications with all affected parties, a mutually satisfactory result may be obtained.

A complex reclamation plan might call for a post-mining land use combining a park with native prairie (passive recreation, education) with a golf course community on a lake interfacing with a park and wetlands. All these land uses could be connected by a trail system. On the other hand, a simple plan could be a lake or pond with some basic agricultural pasture grasses on the shore or could end up being similar to the reclamation typical of a DOT highway right-of-way project.

What hidden land-use opportunities may exist?

Look for opportunities to connect with the "Smart Growth" planning process. Long-term considerations such as how the reclaimed property fits into the broader picture could yield connections to planned or existing trails, recreational areas, wildlife management areas or wildlife migration corridors. This is especially true if rivers, floodplains or wetland complexes are in or adjacent to the mining site. Check into possible incentives that may be available to assist in furthering such opportunities, such as tax breaks that might come with a conservation easement. In any case, participation with the broader community will promote good will and a more positive public image.

When is a modification to an existing reclamation plan necessary, and what does this imply?

The reclamation permit is a life-of-mine permit, and a substantial modification would cause it to be reopened and may necessitate a public hearing. Modifications to the reclamation plan and permit are required when a substantial change in the mine reclamation plan is necessary. Such changes may include:

  • a new acquisition of mineable resources;
  • an increase or decrease in the area to be mined (and reclaimed);
  • modification of mining method, rate of extraction or the time or method of reclamation; or
  • a new/additional post-mining land use is being proposed for approval.
What is the relationship between the total acreage in an approved reclamation plan and the acreage subject to an annual fee?

A reclamation plan delineates all acreage that will be subject to extraction and mining activities. Fees are assessed on only those areas in the reclamation plan that have been, or are being, affected by mining activities and are not reclaimed. For more information, see Reclamation Fees and Financial Assurance.

When is an informational public hearing on the reclamation plan necessary?

NR 135 provides that existing mines - those in operation prior to Aug. 1, 2001, that applied for and received an automatic reclamation permit - do NOT need a public informational hearing. However, a new mine (any mine opened after Aug. 1, 2001), as well as any existing mine that requires a major revision to its reclamation plan, would need to provide an opportunity for a public informational hearing.

Keep in mind that these are informational hearings and are intended to be limited in scope to explaining to and receiving comments from affected persons on the nature, feasibility, effects and other relevant aspects of the proposed nonmetallic reclamation plan.

In order to improve efficiency, it was intended that these informational hearings be piggybacked to a zoning-related hearing on the nonmetallic mine site whenever possible. This way the regulatory authority may jointly consider the reclamation-related testimony and so simultaneously fulfill the requirement for the public hearing for a nonmetallic mining reclamation permit.