Several years ago, the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority purchased a large expanse of reclaimed mountaintop mine property near the Mingo/Logan line.
The purpose was to ideally develop the property in a manner that would ultimately spawn industry, and, consequently, diversify a declining coal economy.
Since then, several companies have been established at the development site — known as the James “Buck” Harless Wood Products Industrial Park — which has resulted in a number of needed jobs for both new and displaced workers.
For some time now, a working agricultural project known as Refresh Appalachia — a co-project of the MCRA and Coalfield Development, Inc. — has been attempting to take root there. The dual goal of Refresh Appalachia, officials say, is not only to provide new jobs, but also to produce farm crops that can be sold to other regions of the state and country.
But taking root, literally, has been anything but a simple and easy endeavor for developers of the project. Officials say that’s mainly because the reclaimed mining land on which this agricultural project depends is not necessarily conducive to growing crops or much of anything else.
Officials say due to nearly every square foot the ground being hard and rocky, and consequently, mainly impracticable, a cost-effective way of developing the ground had to be found if the project is to be successful.
Enter another co-project of the MCRA and Coalfield Development called Reclaim Appalachia.
Like Refresh Appalachia, officials explained, Reclaim Appalachia is a separate Coalfield Development sub-agency which is attempting to effectively transform thousands of acres of currently unusable and/or undeveloped AML property, including the vast acreage available at the industrial park site.
While officials readily admit it remains uncertain as to whether a potentially profitable way has been discovered via an Italian-built machine known as the Seppi Supersoil stone crusher, they nonetheless are hopeful the piece of equipment could be the answer to the problem.
This is why Coalfield Development and MCRA officials joined a number of state officials, university researchers, and equipment dealers last Thursday at the industrial park site for a first-hand demonstration of the machine. The stone crusher/tractor was brought to Mingo County by representatives from Seppi’s American distributor — Linndale Equipment in Wilmington, Ohio.
Officials say the machine, which has not previously been operated in the mountains of West Virginia, typically converts rocky ground like that common with reclaimed mine land into rich, farm conducive soil.
Nathan Hall, who is president of Reclaim Appalachia, said the potential of the stone crusher could be unlimited.
“It’s basically like the heaviest duty tiller you can imagine,” Hall said. “Really, this could have huge benefits for Appalachia, particularly when you consider we have thousands of acres of reclaimed land that currently are too rocky and hard for most types of agriculture.”
Hall said while the machine can transform the soil and make it usable for crops like soybean, corn, and hay, the goal of the project is to produce higher-value-per-acre crops.
“We’re looking for those things that will lead to the creation of more jobs ... things like blackberries, raspberries, lavender, vineyards, really higher orchard products,” he said.
Hall said turning the now unworkable land into functional agricultural sites could go a long way toward local economy diversification.
“If we can transform all these thousands of acres of reclaimed mine land into usable, diverse agriculture sites, I really think that means hundreds and hundreds of jobs,” he said. “We’re all hoping that this project will lead to others throughout the entire region. And if we can get a few of these machines into the region, the possibilities are unlimited not only for Mingo County but all the counties in southern West Virginia.”
Hall reiterated that the main purpose of last week’s demonstration was to determine if the machine could actually work in a reclaimed mine environment, as well to see if it can be used cost-effectively.
“These mostly have been used in Italy, Norway, different European countries that have kind of naturally rocky ground,” he said. “Since this is the first time it’s been used on an actual reclaimed mine site, we’re basically doing some different techniques just to see how it’s going to work here. You might say this demonstration is also an experiment, not only to see how it performs, but also to see if it’s going to be cost-effective enough for us to use it.”