The Garden Guide

Book: Landscape Planning and Environmental Impact Design: from EIA to EID
Chapter: Chapter 6 Mineral working, planning and design

Environmental control of surface mining

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Environmental control 

Surface mining can be controlled in three main ways. The first is to require operators to deposit a bond or contribute to a reclamation fund, as in America. This provides a useful incentive but may encourage the idea that reclamation work can be left until completion. It can't. In shortï¾­life mines, reclamation work must be fully integrated with the extraction process. The second method of regulation is to set up a system which controls the mineral operator's working practices. This can be done by requiring mineral companies to adopt a defined set of operating techniques before starting a new pit. The Opencast Coal Act (1958) controls the authorization, working methods and restoration of surfaceï¾­mined coal in Britain (National Coal Board 1974). Over 95% of the land is restored to agriculture and the remaining land goes to new uses, as at Druridge Bay Country Park (National Coal Board 1967). The Opencast Executive establishes standards for its contractors but this method of control suffers from the disadvantage that mining regulations are difficult to enforce. Unless the quarry manager is utterly determined to keep subsoil and topsoil apart they will become mixed, and topsoil is prone to compaction in wet weather. An Environmental Impact Statement can also establish a sequence of operations which is difficult to monitor. The third, and most effective, method of regulation is to phase the issue of permits to work minerals, and make their issue dependant upon the successful reclamation of earlier phases. These three methods of controlling surface mining have all been tried in Britain. Performance bonds and reclamation funds have been judged most useful for small operators who might go out of business ï¾­ large companies with substantial resources can, in theory, be forced to reclaim the land (Stevens Report 1976: 107). The system of control which uses a defined method of working has been used extensively for surface mining. Working methods are imposed as planning conditions on sand and gravel workings, and written into leases for coal and ironstone. Sand and gravel working has been subject to local planning control since 1947 and a host of different conditions have been tried by different authorities. There is no technical problem in reclaiming sand and gravel workings for agriculture, recreation, or conservation but, as with land worked for surface coal, reclamation standards have been regrettably low. With agricultural restoration schemes the question 'is the result a landscape?' must be given the same answer as for opencast coal: 'usually not'. Restoration is not a technical problem. It depends on the motivation and control of the operating company (Street 1984). Motivation can be dramatically improved by making permission for future phases dependant upon satisfactory reclamation of earlier phases. Mineral companies regard this as an 'unnecessary' precaution, but regulatory authorities will find themselves in a vastly stronger position. They can concentrate on undertaking an evaluation of land which has been reclaimed, by whatever techniques the company prefers, instead of having to make frequent and unsatisfactory site visits. To provide a standard of comparison for the evaluation, there must also have been a full assessment before mining began, of soil quality, agricultural yields, visual quality, conservation value and other site characteristics (Street 1985).