The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announces that the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations (ADIR) Mining & Reclamation Division has proposed to eliminate serious hazards to public health and safety in the form of a dangerous highwall on the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Bibb County, Alabama. The Piper II Phase I Abandoned Mine Lands Project (Piper II Project) will reclaim a portion of a highwall which averages approximately 80 feet in height and extends a linear distance of 3,750 feet. The highwall was left unreclaimed during past surface coal mining operations. Due to the overall cost (estimated at $2.6 million) the project will be conducted in phases. The first phase will involve the reclamation of the highwall upstream. The Piper II Project will require the disturbance and revegetation of 35 acres.
Reclamation of the mined area is expected to reduce the potential for transport of sediment and coal-related contaminants to the Cahaba River and is expected to have a long-term beneficial effect. However, there is potential for short-term increases in the transport of sediment and coal fines to the river during construction activities and prior to the stabilization of reclaimed areas with a vegetated cover. Due to the proximity of the AML Project site to the Cahaba River and associated Federally-listed threatened and endangered (T&E) aquatic species, there is a concern regarding the potential for runoff from the site to adversely affect listed species.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), and Alabama Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Program are committed to minimizing the potential for reclamation activities associated with the Piper II Project to adversely affect T&E species in the Cahaba River. Measures to accomplish this goal will include the implementation and frequent inspection of best management practices (BMPs) to reduce sediment transport from construction sites. Runoff from the initial phase (Phase 1) of the proposed project currently enters an abandoned mine portal. Based on visual observation and evidence of erosion, it is believed that there is little potential for runoff from the Phase 1 project area to directly enter the Cahaba River. Therefore, Phase 1 offers an opportunity to evaluate BMP effectiveness while minimizing the potential to affect the Cahaba River.
Construction for Phase 1 is estimated to begin in early September and take approximately six months to complete. We are hoping to be able to begin Phase 2 of the reclamation immediately upon completion of Phase 1. Once the project area has been reclaimed, longleaf pine and native grasses and forbs will be planted to begin the restoration process. Photographs by Roland Harper (1906) indicate a multi-aged forest of longleaf pine with an open understory and dense herbaceous cover once covered uplands within the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge Habitat Management Plan (HMP) has designated upland industrial loblolly plantations on the refuge as candidates for longleaf pine restoration. The restoration of the native longleaf pine ecosystem is further supported by Alabama’s Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. The presence of relict plants, Alabama phlox (under review) and Georgia aster (candidate) indicate that rare native plants formally existed throughout these uplands. Improved habitat for these species could contribute to the need not to list and protect under the Endangered Species Act. The overall restoration objective is to establish a mosaic longleaf pine forest cover over the entire reclaimed area.
Piper Trail and effected reclamation area will be closed during the Piper II Project. The Piper Trail was originally constructed in 2006 by the Friends of the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge and is a favorite of local hikers. Pictures of the original trail construction can be found on the Friends website at www.cahabafriends.com. Pictures of the Piper II Project will be available on the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/cahabarivernwr. Please address any concerns or questions to Refuge Manager Sarah Clardy at 256-848-6833.