2004 Denver Annual Meeting (November 7–10, 2004)

Paper No. 8
Presentation Time: 1:30 PM-5:30 PM


BIGGS, Thomas H., Environmental Sciences, Univ of Virginia, Clark Hall, 291 McCormick Road, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4123 and BISHOP, Allen, Division of Mineral Mining, Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy, Fontaine Research Park, P.O. Box 3727, Charlottesville, VA 22903, thb3k@virginia.edu

The Virginia Orphaned Lands Program was established in 1978 to begin reclamation of the thousands of abandoned mineral mine sites in the Commonwealth. Orphaned lands are those areas disturbed by surface mining of minerals which have been abandoned but not reclaimed. Some of the Virginia sites date back to the Colonial period; others are more recent, but the operators are long gone. Many old mines and prospects are poorly documented and others are lost completely. Beginning Spring Semester 2001, the University of Virginia, Department of Environmental Sciences (EVSC) and the Virginia Division of Mineral Mining (DMM) have collaborated on a program that benefits students at the University and the state. The program greatly accelerates the inventory and prioritization of sites, the first step in the process of cleaning them up. Watersheds are selected by DMM based on known sites in the area. EVSC students locate the individual sites and conduct environmental and safety evaluations: they describe the site (number of pits, trenches or shafts, distribution of tailings, abandoned machinery and structures, impoundments, proximity to residences and roads, etc), record GPS bearings on significant features at each site, take numerous photographs of the site, record evidence of visitation (trash dumps, off-road vehicle use, target practice, etc), test the pH and conductivity of surface waters on and adjacent to the site, and may do limited soil geochemistry. Each site is assigned a unique inventory number and findings are scored and prioritized by an on-line automated system that incorporates expert logic for consistency and data analysis. Ninety undergraduate and fifteen graduate students have participated in the class over the seven semesters. The students have gained valuable “real world” field expertise as well as experience working as a collaborative team. The hundreds of sites visited by EVSC students have greatly accelerated and increased the DMM site inventory.