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OMR Works With Local Governments
To Monitor the Mining Industry

 

It's a lesson everyone was taught in childhood: pick up after yourself. As anyone who had a sloppy roommate in college can tell you, not everyone learned the lesson.

That reality, in a nutshell, is why the Office of Mine Reclamation was created in 1991. The Department of Conservation's newest division and the State Mining and Geology Board are jointly charged with proper administration of the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act.

OMR provides information, advice and technical assistance to local governments, state agencies and mine operators for reclamation planning and promotes cost-effective reclamation. Meanwhile, the board clarifies and interprets SMARA's regulations and serves as a policy and appeals body.

SMARA is a link between the production of important mineral resources and environmental protection. SMARA's reclamation requirements apply to all surface mining operations in California -- including those on federally managed lands -- that have been active since 1976, and disturb more than one acre or remove more than 1,000 cubic yards of material. Currently, there are approximately 1,000 such active mines in the state, employing about 9,000 people.

Initially, SMARA was limited to issues such as permits and reclamation plans. The law was beefed up in 1991. Mining operators were required to start filing annual reports, submit to annual inspections and put up financial assurances (such as bonds, trust funds or irrevocable letters of credit) to ensure the cost of reclamation would be covered.

The process of reclamation includes maintaining water and air quality as well as minimizing flooding, erosion and damage to wildlife and aquatic habitats caused by surface mining. The final step in the process is often topsoil replacement and revegetation with suitable plant species. Some mined lands have been returned to their natural state. Others have become farmland, grazing land, parks, wildlife habitat, housing or industrial/commercial zones.

The California Geological Survey (formerly the Division of Mines and Geology) originally was charged with administrating SMARA. But after the law was revamped, the Office of Mine Reporting and Reclamation Compliance was created to deal with compliance issues. Reclamation remained part of CGS' domain. It wasn't until 1993 that OMR assumed its current form.

SMARA is implemented at the local level with state oversight. Generally, mining operators submit their reclamation plan to a local lead agency (city or county) for approval. The lead agency forwards it to OMR for review. While OMR's recommendations do not have to be implemented, they must be considered, and a lead agency must adequately explain any major objections.

In some cases, the State Mining and Geology Board has to assume lead agency status. When that happens, OMR staffers assume inspection duties normally handled by local lead agencies. Occasionally, a local lead agency will ask OMR to have a staff member accompany its inspector into the field.

OMR -- which makes its expertise in planning, engineering, compliance and various scientific fields available to lead agencies, planners, consultants and mine operators alike -- is comprised of three units:

  • The Reclamation Unit reviews reclamation plans, visits sites, conducts workshops and produces publications.

  • The Reporting and Compliance Unit maintains a mine database; files annual reports; establishes fees; has oversight over lead agencies; conducts field investigations; and handles enforcement.

  • The Abandoned Mine Lands Unit has no SMARA responsibilities; it recently catalogued the state's abandoned and historic mines -- finding an estimated 39,000 -- to ensure the safety of the public and environment. In addition to its report on abandoned mines, AMLU maintains a toll-free number, 1-877-OLDMINE, where citizens can report the whereabouts of an abandoned mine or its remnants. AMLU reminds us all to ``Stay Out, Stay Alive'' when it comes to abandoned mines.

Go to the Office of Mine Reclamation