Bridger Coal Earns Reclamation Honors

Elk

Bridger Coal Company was recognized for successful reclamation work April 16 by the Interstate Mining Compact Commission, a multi-state governmental organization that represents natural resource and environmental protection interests.

The company earned an honorable mention for using innovative methods to restore areas of Bridger Coal’s surface mine to its pre-mining state – rangeland supporting a multitude of wildlife species.

The IMCC honors mining operations each year that have demonstrated reclamation excellence in five categories: compliance, contemporaneous reclamation, drainage control, bond release (or reclamation success), and innovation.

The Bridger reclamation efforts employed technologically enhanced designs and GPS-aided earth-moving systems to recreate natural landscapes from the large open-pit mine. That innovative approach has produced stable, maintenance-free topography and stream systems that enhance the wildlife and plant habitat.

“By reclaiming the disturbed acreages in a manner that imitates the diverse native topography, we’ve created a habitat where native wildlife is abundant both on and off the mine site, even during ongoing mining operations,” said Scott Palmer, technical services manager at Bridger Coal.

Bridger Coal Company owns and operates the multi-faceted Jim Bridger Mine complex that employs surface, highwall and underground mining methods, along with extensive reclamation operations.

The mine, located near Rock Springs, Wyo., began producing coal in 1974 and supplies the adjacent Jim Bridger Power Plant with approximately 6 million tons of coal per year.

Reclamation activities take place on an ongoing basis in areas where coal mining has been completed. Once mining operations cease, the disturbed areas are reshaped to their approximate original topography, as approved by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality/Land Quality Division. Topsoil is then applied and reseeded with native plant species.

Palmer credits Bridger’s successful reclamation efforts to the employees who design and implement it. “The engineers and equipment operators take so much pride in the work they’re doing,” he said. “They eat, breathe and sleep it, and have done an amazing job changing the landscape back to a healthy, thriving habitat that will never be disturbed again.”

At the height of operations, Bridger’s open-pit mine was almost 17 miles long, with nearly 10,500 acres of land disturbed by mining operations. Of those, 4,000 acres have been reclaimed.

Reclamation design and implementation techniques have been greatly enhanced in recent years, according to Palmer.

Bridger’s new approach uses the GeoFluv™ modeling method to design landform that is stable against erosion. The reclaimed landform is constructed with a dragline and track dozers that both use onboard Global Positioning Systems (GPS) loaded with design surfaces that included ridges, sub-ridges, valleys, sub-valleys and drainages.

“Previous designs had much less detailed topographical relief and fewer drainages, while the new geomorphic designs are providing more topographic relief and drainage placement for a long-term, stable landform,” Palmer said.

“The landscape surrounding the mine is high-elevation desert, and in this arid environment, the small drainages are critical to trapping and holding our limited precipitation, most of which occurs in the form of snow.”

Adding a ridge line near the middle of the project area and draining each side to a different main drainage have been key to restoring habitat. Various tributaries are added, and slopes are created for snow-catch basins. Additionally, the sub-ridges and sub-valleys prevent erosion in larger precipitation events, as runoff is more controlled than it would be on flatter topography.

The complex slopes also enhance plant and animal diversity, supporting wildlife habitat and vegetative cover equal to or better than pre-mining conditions.

During 2012, Bridger Coal moved nearly 28 million cubic yards of earth using geomorphic design principles and onboard GPS technology. More than 700 acres have been designed and reclaimed using the new methods.

Elk, pronghorn antelope, mule deer and wild horses now inhabit the reclaimed lands, along with a wide variety of smaller mammals and birds.

“Geomorphic reclamation designs have facilitated the restoration of diverse and environmentally desirable landforms required by the company and the government agencies that oversee reclamation – and by the local wildlife,” Palmer said.

“It’s an impressive transformation for the areas once disturbed by mining operations.”