A reclamation project planned this year will eliminate about 2,850 feet of dangerous highwalls at two abandoned surface coal mines in Morton County.

The North Dakota Public Service Commission has awarded $300,000 from the Abandoned Mine Lands Program to restore two sites northwest of New Salem.

“Because of the steep highwall, they're a hazard to the public,” said Bill Dodd, assistant director for North Dakota’s Abandoned Mine Lands program within the Public Service Commission.

The sites were mined before 1957, but the state doesn’t have good documentation on precisely when they were active coal mines, Dodd said.

The Carrick site, about 8 miles west and 2.5 miles north of New Salem, is within 500 feet of a public road. The Nilles site, about 5 miles west and 2.5 miles north of New Salem, is within 150 feet of cultivated fields and about 500 feet from a road.

The sites have highwalls that are 15 to 40 feet high.

“They're very steep,” Dodd said. “Not quite straight down, but almost.”

Randy Christmann, Public Service Commission chairman, said the steep drop-offs are dangerous for both the public and wildlife.

The 36-acre reclamation project will involve backsloping and backfilling the highwalls, using about 120,000 cubic yards of earthen material from adjacent spoil piles.

Contractors recently visited the sites and bids will be awarded next week.

The project will be funded through the federal grant dollars the state receives each year from the Abandoned Mine Land Fund. The program, which is funded through a federal tax on coal production, aims to restore land adversely affected by past coal mining.

North Dakota should have received $3 million for the grant period that began March 1, but the amount was reduced to $2.8 million due to sequestration.

The Public Service Commission prioritizes projects based on the danger posed to the public, Dodd said.

In addition to the Morton County work, the agency also is using about $1.6 million of the grant funding this year to prevent underground coal mines from collapsing.

In Burleigh County, contractors will continue stabilizing underground coal mines along N.D. Highway 36 near Wilton, a continuation of work that began in 2015.

There is a danger of sinkholes developing in or near the roadway if the underground mines collapse. In 2011, a sinkhole developed in a road ditch along the highway near Wilton.

“This is what we’re trying to prevent,” Christmann said.

The work will involve drilling into the mine and pumping pressurized grout to fill the voids.

In addition, work is planned to stabilize underground coal mines at a farmstead about 14 miles north of Parshall in Mountrail County and at two businesses along Williams County Highway 9 near Williston.

For more information about the state’s Abandoned Mine Lands Division, visit www.psc.nd.gov or call 701-328-4096.

Reach Amy Dalrymple at 701-250-8267 or Amy.Dalrymple@bismarcktribune.com.