BROKEN ARROW — Northeastern State University staff hope to convert an abandoned mine on the Broken Arrow campus into a recreational area that could include a nature trail and an outdoor amphitheater.
School administrators and staff are working with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, city officials and a neighboring property owner to reclaim the area.
They still are discussing plans for the site, which includes about 40 acres on the north part of campus that has been stripped of its natural vegetation and soil composition. The area also includes valleys that hold water and create safety concerns, said Tim Foutch, vice president for operations at NSU.
The university doesn't have any reports about anyone being injured on the property, but people who are unaware of the dangers could wander into the area, Foutch said.
The total area that will be reclaimed is about 100 acres, said Mike Kastl, director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission's Abandoned Mine Land Program. The site includes property that belongs to a neighboring landowner, Kastl said.
Staff for the Abandoned Mine Land Program are leading the project. Workers will shape the contour of the property to allow for proper runoff and eliminate problems with trapped water, Foutch said. He said they hope to create a holding pond.
They might also build a natural amphitheater that could seat about 300-400 people, Foutch said. The city hopes to add soccer fields on the far north part of NSU's property that can be used until the university needs the space, said Broken Arrow City Manager Dave Wooden.
Wooden said the city owns about seven acres that is being reclaimed. Three other sites in Broken Arrow have been reclaimed during the past 10 or 11 years, Wooden said.
Officials aren't sure how long the project will take to complete. Kastl estimated it will cost $650,000 to $750,000, which will be paid for with federal funds.
Faculty will help design the walking trail. Foutch said he hopes the area can eventually be used for hands-on learning opportunities.
“This will be a very dynamic and progressive project that will continue to grow over time,” Foutch said.
Without support from the Abandoned Mine Land Program, NSU would be years away from being able to reclaim the area, Foutch said.
The reclamation program is federally funded with money from a tax on coal production, Kastl said. Oklahoma has received about $46 million during the past 30 years. Funding is scheduled to continue through 2026. In fiscal year 2012, Oklahoma will begin receiving $3 million a year — an increase of $600,000 from previous years.
But the state has $100 million worth of high priority problems, Kastl said. Places that pose health or safety threats are considered high priority areas.
“At $3 million, we'll never get enough funding,” Kastl said.
Oklahoma has had 25 known deaths at abandoned mine sites since 1972, Kastl said. He said many of them were in Rogers County.
During the past 30 years, the state has reclaimed about 4,500 acres on 158 sites.
Eastern Oklahoma still has about 40,000 acres of underground mines, Kastl said.