Environmental article by Harold Hough

Although mining companies have an excellent reclamation record, we seldom look to the aggregate segment of the industry for hints. Yet, these companies are often the unsung heroes of reclamation, who have frequently led the nation in quality reclamation.

There are several reasons for their excellent reclamation record. First, since they are frequently family owned businesses with deep roots in the community, they see the area not as a place to be exploited before moving on, but as part of their family heritage. Consequently, they will go above and beyond to restore the land.

Family owned aggregate businesses also have better connections with the community and know what their neighbors want (they also have to answer any embarrassing questions from their neighbors everyday at the grocery store).

While a larger business may think they know the community’s needs and think it is primarily good paying jobs, a family business may be better able to cater to the community by focusing on popular recreational outgrowths of reclamation like fishing, camping, and hunting. The result is a reclamation project that appeals more to the residents.

Family aggregate companies also know that their aggregate resources are limited and future family members may not be able to rely on the aggregate business. This means they practice conservation. It also means that the reclaimed land is more than just land – it’s what future generations of the family must rely upon. That means that what is now a gravel pit today may need to be profitable farm land 50 years from now.

Since small aggregate firms are more closely tied to the community, they go out of the way to clean up problems – even ones they didn’t cause. One example is the family owned Badger Mining, of Wisconsin. When they decided to build a new corporate headquarters, they picked an industrial wasteland that was a former dump for local foundries. There was little vegetation at the site and erosion was a problem for the neighboring wetland.

During the construction process, the company moved 150,000 yards of fill and added topsoil to half the property, some of which wasn’t even theirs. The company made the area a wildlife refuge with a four-acre fish lake and a two-acre wetland. Piles of dirt that had blocked the flow of water from the lake were removed so walleye could begin breeding in the area once again.

Fortunately, as the aggregate industry has consolidated, the attention to quality reclamation has continued, probably because the individual sites are still run by the same family oriented people who have operated the site for years.

One example is Titan America, which although an international company still holds to its Greek, family oriented business model. It is also associated with preserving wetlands and critical ecosystems in Florida. As part of its plans to open the King Road Limestone Mine, Titan America purchased and restored an area adjacent to the mine site to offset any impact of the proposed limestone mine.

The area is part of the historic Gulf Hammock. Hammock is a term used in the southeastern United States for stands of trees, usually hardwood, that form an ecological island in a different ecosystem. Hammocks grow on elevated areas, often just a few inches high, surrounded by wetlands that are too wet to support them. Since the early 1800s, the hammock has been disturbed repeatedly beginning with selective harvesting of specific tree species (such as eastern red cedar for pencils), and more recently, planted pine plantations.

Titan America intends to thin the trees until they more closely match the density of natural tree cover in the hammock. They will also plant more native species and remove nuisance species.

Another large aggregate company with a commitment to reclamation is Lafarge. The rare Lakeside Daisy is currently known to exist at only two natural sites in the United States: the Lafarge Marblehead Quarry in Ohio and in Michigan. The Marblehead Quarry produces approximately 4,000,000 tons of crushed limestone per year. Despite that, the endangered Lakesite Daisy isn’t in danger of disappearing thanks to the Lakeside Daisy Preserve, which encompasses 19 acres of the old limestone quarries on the Marblehead Peninsula of Lake Erie. The Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves works with Lafarge Corporation to protect the Lakeside Daisy within the active limestone quarry. This is one of Ohio’s most spectacular wildflowers. In early to mid-May, its bright yellow flowers adorn the sun-baked landscape of the Marblehead Quarry.

So, when looking for new, better reclamation ideas, don’t merely rely upon the big mining companies. Look to the small aggregate operations that have a commitment to preserving their community.