FROSTBURG, Md. - A western Maryland mountaintop once strip-mined for coal will produce tree seedlings to reforest eroding stream banks across the region under a federally funded project announced Thursday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The four greenhouses on a five-acre, reclaimed surface mine near Frostburg also may be used to grow other native plants and food for Frostburg State University students, officials said at an on-campus news conference.
The environmental group American Rivers will implement the $300,000 EPA grant awarded to the Western Maryland Resource Conservation and Development Council.
The project is among six in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia that the EPA is funding at a total of nearly $1.4 million through its Highlands Action Program.
"These projects stand to create lasting benefits for communities throughout the highlands region," EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin said. "The six projects selected for EPA's funding will provide protection, conservation and restoration improvements that will benefit the environment, create jobs and maintain the cultural heritage of this vital region."
The greenhouses should be in operation this year on acreage leased from the Allegany Coal and Land Co., officials said. The reclaimed land was previously used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to store hundreds of mobile homes meant to shelter disaster victims.
Trees grown and planted on the barren, gravel-covered site will prevent sediment from washing into nearby Braddock Run, officials said. The greenhouse complex, staffed by two full-time workers and tended by Frostburg State students, will also grow trees to reforest other areas, mostly in Allegany County.
The plantings near the headwaters of the Potomac River will help improve water quality downstream and in the Chesapeake Bay, said Craig Hartsock, president of the resource and development council.
"We certainly have a great need for planting trees here in western Maryland," he said. "We have a lot of reclaimed strip mines and a lot of active mines and today we're trying to push more and more reforestation on these lands."
The EPA funds were matched with $11,000 each from the local Georges Creek Watershed Association and the federal Appalachian Regional Council, with in-kind contributions from agencies including the Maryland State Highway Administration.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., called the project a big deal for the region and the state.
"What we're doing here is preserving what makes western Maryland so special," he said.
The other grants awarded were:
_$250,000 to the Land Conservancy of Adams County, Pa., to preserve 147 acres including the headwaters of Marsh Creek
_$300,000 to the Nature Conservancy to protect 455 acres between the Laurel Fork Wilderness Area and the Seneca Rocks-Spruce Knob Recreation Area of West Virginia's Monongahela National Forest
_$209,000 to Staunton, Va., to restore Peyton Creek
_$163,000 to Waynesboro, Va., for improvements along the South River
_$150,000 to the Potomac Conservancy to protect 110,000 acres in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.
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