Throughout the world, thousands of mines and quarry sites have reached or are approaching the end of their mining operations. Once abandoned, the goal of the mining reclamation plan is to mitigate the impact of the mine on the local community and/or environment. Many closed facilities are now forest and wetland banking sites, recreational sites, public parks or other green spaces. History is filled with examples of landscapes that were destroyed by mining activities. But today, those practices are changing and, in many countries, mining permits will not be granted without a complete closure and reclamation plan. In the US, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) resulted in more than two million acres of reclaimed land. Today, KCI promotes mining reclamation as a target market in the firm’s green design and sustainable site initiatives. Our team, through the acquisition of Hoehn Landscape Architecture (HLA), has developed a much more lucrative and site-specific solution to mining reclamation called ‘Value Reclamation Planning’.
Value Reclamation Planning is a process that recognizes and optimizes the real estate value of strategically located mines and quarries through their conversion from wasteland into the highest and best use of the post-mining condition of the site.
Rick Hoehn, RLAPractice Leader
Every former mining site is unique with its own location, transportation network, mineral deposits, mining history, relevant context, and environmental resource protection areas. Located in suburban Baltimore, Maryland, Quarry Lake at Greenspring and Quarry Place offer two examples of former aggregate mines that have been successfully optimized to maximize their economic and community benefit by utilizing the Value Reclamation Planning approach.
Early goals of the value reclamation planning process include a careful analysis of the site and its surroundings. To gather this information, a number of studies can be conducted, including a site location evaluation, a site inventory and analysis, land bay mappings of buildable and unbuildable areas, identification of potential uses and typical yields, cash flow projections, and risk analysis. For pits and quarries with a longer remaining mining life, this process may begin 10 to 20 years in advance of projected closure, thereby ensuring all stakeholders are aware of the eventual disposition of the site.
The location of a quarry or mine immediately identifies the feasibility of certain future uses of a site. What works at one location may not necessarily work well at another. For example, it might not make sense to propose a mid-rise apartment complex in a rural location. Reviewing existing land uses, legislative master plans and zoning patterns can help identify realistic future uses within a site’s given context.
It is also important to conduct a site inventory and analysis to identify and investigate any potential issues. By examining wetland and water resource mappings, site access and distance studies, available utilities, existing land use plans, and compatibility studies, the character of the site can be revealed. This helps provide a clearer look at the site’s constraints and opportunities, and reveals how to capitalize on desirable conditions.
Using the results and information obtained from the site location and site analysis studies, a land bay/bubble plan can be prepared. This simple graphic outlines buildable and unbuildable areas while providing measured acreage calculations of each bubble. The plan helps to visually display how potential land uses relate to one another in an organized manner.
Once this data is outlined, it is time to start considering potential options to occupy the buildable land bays. Yields can be quantified by multiplying the measured area by typical ratios associated with the suggested use. For example, in a rural farm location, an equestrian complex might use a yield ratio of one horse per acre; whereas in a suburban residential location, a proposed single family home development might use a yield ratio of 2.5 lots per acre. Working closely with market analysts, developers and real estate professionals, cash flow projections can be estimated by examining probable price points for proposed uses based on area demographics, comparable sales data and anticipated absorption rates.
A risk analysis will identify potential issues that could negatively impact the project as well as solutions to help avoid or mitigate those risks. Planners consider intangible factors such as anticipated opposition, or support from local government officials, review agencies, nearby property owners and neighborhoods, as well as more tangible factors like impacts to the local ecological habitat and environment.
The Stakeholder Process
Following a completion of the analysis process, a realistic and publicly responsible reclamation land use plan is prepared and presented to a variety of neighborhood, political and environmentally concerned audiences as part of the stakeholder process. These early presentations are often kept very simple in order to maintain focus on general concepts including proposed land uses, preservation areas and open spaces, site access points, and site circulation.
This process allows stakeholders to voice their concerns and contribute ideas that can be incorporated for the betterment of the plan. An open and transparent stakeholder process can often pay dividends in efforts to gain support and confidence with each group that has a vested interest in the proposed reclamation project. The willingness to work through differences often results in a win-win for both sides.
Protecting Your Investment
Because the value reclamation planning process typically begins several years prior to the conclusion of the mining operations, restrictive covenant agreements (RCA) may be put in place outlining the maximum development potential, permitted land uses, densities, timeframes, design guidelines and other development requirements to help protect the ultimate reclamation development potential. The RCA will allow both the future developer and the local community to understand and mutually agree in advance what will become of the former quarry site, thereby limiting potential conflicts once development commences. When needed, modifications can be formally documented in a revised covenant agreement between the quarry owner and the community. Having this information compiled ahead of time can lead to reclamation activities beginning immediately once operations at the quarry are terminated.
Road Map for the Life of the Mine
Covenant agreements laid out years in advance will have established dates for the termination of quarrying activities. As this date approaches, consultants are put in place to oversee the transition. Since most quarry owners are in business to operate quarries versus being real estate developers, a seasoned developer or development consultant should lead and represent them in contract negotiations and complex development approval processes that lie ahead.
Feasibility studies prepared years prior are compared to present-day economic, political and market conditions. Modifications to the earlier development plans may be necessary, and occasionally covenant agreements need to be renegotiated. However, the decision to revise established covenants must be carefully considered as it may open the door to new issues and concerns of neighborhood stakeholders.
The Development Approval Process
Final development approval processes can vary widely. In more rural jurisdictions, both the process and projected future land uses are typically less intense, while urban areas are usually more complex and time-consuming. At both Greenspring and Delight Quarries, a two-phase development approval process was used, consisting of a concept plan/development plan phase and a record plat/construction document phase.
The purpose of the concept plans is to introduce the proposed development while initiating preliminary jurisdictional comments. As part of the process, community input meetings are often held to inform citizens and give them an outlet to express any concerns. After completion of the concept plans, the development plan is prepared for formal approvals. A typical development plan requires detailed civil engineering plans with supporting documentation to meet all local building codes, zoning regulations, and stormwater management and environmental requirements. Approvals for this plan are formalized through a public hearing process.
The record plat/construction document phase represents the final stage of design prior to actual implementation of the approved development program. Construction documents include surveyed locations for all proposed lot lines as well as final design documents for roads, water, sewers, storm drains, sediment and erosion control, stormwater management facilities, buildings, signage, site amenities, and landscaping.
Reclamation Construction/Post-Mining Development
Once the development process has been approved, post-mining activities can commence. The build-out timeframe for each site will vary based on needed roads and utilities, size and complexity of the development mix, current real estate market conditions and absorption rates. After careful planning the 230-acre Quarry Lake at Greenspring property was subdivided into residential and commercial components. Shortly after construction began, the site became one of the best-selling communities on the entire East Coast.
Proposed landscape architecture and site amenities included at both Quarry Lake and Quarry Place helped to elevate the attractiveness and livability of these former quarries. Features like lakes, entry monuments, gateways, interpretive and educational signage, hiking and biking trails, ball fields, parks, overlooks, promenades, sculptures, street furnishings, amenity lighting, and sitting areas can all be used to transform a space. Additionally, the use of locally-mined stone building help to create a sense of place that honors and acknowledges the hard work and economic legacy of the former quarry to its surrounding neighbors and community.
Reclamation projects such as Quarry Lake at Greenspring and Quarry Place provide an excellent working demonstration of how an effective value reclamation planning process can turn required reclamation costs into opportunities for profitable future land sales and sustainable uses. Given the appropriate location and site-related circumstances, a multi-disciplinary team can offer income producing solutions that can unlock the hidden residual value and opportunities of a former quarry and provide a rewarding conclusion to mining activities.