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Mine reclamation work fills voids in Oklahoma

BY ANN KELLEY Modified: May 3, 2010 at 6:45 am •  Published: May 3, 2010

/articleid/3458503/1/pictures/927262">Photo - Henry Roye checks the depth of an abandoned coal mine that is more than 500 feet deep near Hartshorne. PHOTO BY STEVE GOOCH, THE OKLAHOMAN
Henry Roye checks the depth of an abandoned coal mine that is more than 500 feet deep near Hartshorne. PHOTO BY STEVE GOOCH, THE OKLAHOMAN
He said the solution was to fix what lies underneath.

Holes, some as deep as 23 feet, are dug in the highway, and the voids filled with grout.

"Every cave-in poses a different set of problems, so there’s no blueprint of solutions,” Roye said.

Finding solutions
Roye inspects nearly all reports of cave-ins, whether they’re in the middle of a farmer’s field or under a home, like the Spearses’.

He said the spring rainy season is the worst. The moisture softens the earth, and antique timbers that supported the tunnels crumble from decay.

The Spearses’ home couldn’t be salvaged, but reclamation officials were able to save a neighbor’s home, Roye said.

"I still feel bad for them, but it was too far gone too quick,” he said.

The program’s money can only be used to repair a problem and not to compensate property owners, he said.

Clint Spears said for years he wrangled with the mortgage company that financed his home before he was free of the $47,000 debt. He said his homeowner’s insurance didn’t cover sinking mines, and he virtually walked away from the house.

The successes outnumber the losses, Roye said.

At Haileyville Public Schools, a sinkhole opened on a playground, almost collapsing the campus agricultural education building. He said they were able to stop it a few feet from the building.

In McAlester, a horse was saved after slipping into a mining void filled with water, he said.

They’ve even built conservation ponds to clean water that’s been tainted by the minerals and metals prevalent in old mines, Roye said.

Maps show entire towns are built over old coal mines, some mines dating back to the late 1800s.

Kastl said while it may seem Oklahoma has its share of problems caused by abandoned mines, it’s nothing compared to larger coal mining states.

In Pennsylvania alone, about $43 million a year is spent on reclamation.

The proceeds for the mining reclamation programs come from a tax on coal, he said.

The Oklahoman’s Watchdog Team: Looking out for you. Visit


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