Thousands of acres of abandoned mining land in West Virginia will get new uses out of part of a large-scale development project Coalfield Development Corporation is leading with support from West Virginia University. The project is among those to receive funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration as part of the “Build Back Better Regional Challenge Grant.”
The objective of the comprehensive project, called Appalachian Climate Technology Now, is to create a more sustainable future in areas previously reliant on coal.
With that goal in mind, WVU is leading one component, the “Former Mine Lands to Sustainable Lands” program that is designed to accelerate the pace of former mine reclamation and put those sites to new use with solar, wind or geothermal generation, energy storage, agro-forestry, healthy food production, eco-tourism and outdoor recreation.
“This is the kind of transformative development that speaks to and fulfills West Virginia University’s land-grant mission to advance innovation and attract new investments to the entire state,” WVU President Gordon Gee said. “This work with the Coalfield Development Corporation has the potential to be an economic sea change for West Virginia.”
Involved from WVU are the Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative, Energy Institute, Natural Resource Analysis Center, Office of Student and Faculty Innovation, Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic, Mountain Hydrology Lab, Start Up WV, John Chambers College of Business and Economics and the BRIDGE Initiative.
“Our goal is to take our former mine lands and turn them into assets,” Danny Twilley, assistant vice president of economic, community and asset development for OEDC, said. “This is a truly collaborative effort from so many at WVU who are working to address this critical issue.”
The Smith OEDC is also involved in a separate workforce component as part of Generation WV’s GROW Now project. Developed as part of the WVU’s Academic Innovation Summit last fall, participants in the First Ascent program are mentored in working remotely, take part in WVU’s remote worker certification course and get connected to the Ascend WV remote worker community, along with several other benefits. The funding from the EDA will help seed the pilot program with the goal of future expansion.
Meanwhile, the Northern WV Brownfields Assistance Center has signed on for another community development part of the larger ACT Now project to support the West Virginia Community Development Hub’s Community and Business Resilient Initiative. The assistance center will work to identify locations in downtown areas to be repurposed as green building projects.
“I have long envisioned our region as a living and learning laboratory for successful partnerships, among all sectors — public, private, education and government,” Gee said. “And I believe this coalition ideally positions West Virginia University to fulfill its calling to help our communities in West Virginia thrive in the coming decades.”