82-4-232. Area mining required -- bond -- alternative plan. (1) (a) Area strip mining, a method of operation that does not produce a bench or fill bench, is required where strip mining is proposed. The area of land affected must be backfilled and graded to the approximate original contour of the land. However:
(i) consistent with the adjacent unmined landscape elements, the operator may propose and the department may approve regraded topography gentler than premining topography in order to enhance the postmining land use and develop a postmining landscape that will provide greater moisture retention, greater stability, and reduced soil losses from runoff and erosion;
(ii) postmining slopes may not exceed the angle of repose or lesser slope as is necessary to achieve a long-term static safety factor of 1.3 or greater and to prevent slides;
(iii) permanent impoundments may be approved if they are suitable for the postmining land use and otherwise meet the requirements of this part, as provided by department rules; and
(iv) reclaimed topography must be suitable for the approved postmining land use.
(b) Spoil from the first cut is not required to be transported to the last cut if highwalls are eliminated, box cut spoils are graded to blend in with the surrounding terrain, and the approximate original contour of the land is achieved.
(c) When directed by the department, the operator shall construct in the final grading diversion ditches, depressions, or terraces that will accumulate or control the water runoff.
(2) In addition to the backfilling and grading requirements, the operator's method of operation on steep slopes may be regulated and controlled according to rules adopted by the department. These rules may require any measure to accomplish the purpose of this part.
(3) For coal mining on prime farmlands, the department shall establish by rule specifications for soil removal, storage, replacement, and reconstruction, and the operator must as a minimum be required to:
(a) (i) segregate the A horizon of the natural soil, except when it can be shown that other available soil materials will create a final soil having a greater productive capacity; and
(ii) if not used immediately, stockpile this material separately from other spoil and provide needed protection from wind and water erosion or contamination by other acid or toxic material;
(b) (i) segregate the B horizon of the natural soil, or underlying C horizon or other strata, or a combination of the horizons or other strata that are shown to be both texturally and chemically suitable for plant growth and that can be shown to be equally or more favorable for plant growth than the B horizon in sufficient quantities to create in the regraded final soil a root zone of comparable depth and quality to that that existed in the natural soil; and
(ii) if not used immediately, stockpile this material separately from other spoil and provide needed protection from wind and water erosion or contamination by acid or toxic material;
(c) replace and regrade the root zone material described in subsection (3)(b) with proper compaction and uniform depth over the regraded spoil material; and
(d) redistribute and grade in a uniform manner the surface soil horizon described in subsection (3)(a).
(4) All available topsoil must be removed in a separate layer, guarded from erosion and pollution, and kept in a condition so that it can sustain vegetation of at least the quality and variety it sustained prior to removal. However, the operator shall accord substantially the same treatment to any subsurface deposit of material that is capable, as determined by the department, of supporting surface vegetation virtually as well as the present topsoil. After the operation has been backfilled and graded, the topsoil or the best available subsurface deposit of material that is best able to support vegetation must be returned as the top layer.
(5) As determined by rules of the department, time limits must be established requiring backfilling, grading, subsidence stabilization, water control, highwall reduction, topsoiling, planting, and revegetation to be kept current. All backfilling, subsidence stabilization, sealing, grading, and topsoiling must be completed before necessary equipment is moved from the operation.
(6) (a) The permittee may file an application with the department for the release of all or part of a performance bond. The application must contain a proposed public notice of the precise location of the land affected, the number of acres for which bond release is sought, the permit and the date approved, the amount of the bond filed and the portion sought to be released, the type and appropriate dates of reclamation work performed, and a description of the results achieved as they relate to the permittee's approved reclamation plan. In addition, as part of any bond release application, the permittee shall submit copies of letters that the permittee has sent to adjoining property owners, local governmental bodies, planning agencies, and sewage and water treatment authorities or water companies in the locality of the operation, notifying them of the permittee's intention to seek release from the bond.
(b) The department shall determine whether the application is administratively complete. An application is administratively complete if it includes:
(i) the location and acreage of the land for which bond release is sought;
(ii) the amount of bond release sought;
(iii) a description of the completed reclamation, including the date of performance;
(iv) a discussion of how the results of the completed reclamation satisfy the requirements of the approved reclamation plan; and
(v) information required by rules implementing this part.
(c) The department shall notify the applicant in writing of its determination no later than 60 days after submittal of the application. If the department determines that the application is not administratively complete, it shall specify in the notice those items that the application must address. After an application for bond release has been determined to be administratively complete by the department, the permittee shall publish a public notice that has been approved as to form and content by the department at least once a week for 4 successive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation in the locality of the mining operation.
(d) Any person with a valid legal interest that might be adversely affected by the release of a bond or the responsible officer or head of any federal, state, or local governmental agency that has jurisdiction by law or special expertise with respect to any environmental, social, or economic impact involved in the operation or is authorized to develop and enforce environmental standards with respect to the operation may file written objections to the proposed release of bond to the department within 30 days after the last publication of the notice. If written objections are filed and a hearing is requested, the department shall hold a public hearing in the locality of the operation proposed for bond release or in Helena, at the option of the objector, within 30 days of the request for hearing. The department shall inform the interested parties of the time and place of the hearing. The date, time, and location of the public hearing must be advertised by the department in a newspaper of general circulation in the locality for 2 consecutive weeks. Within 30 days after the hearing, the department shall notify the permittee and the objector of its final decision.
(e) Without prejudice to the rights of the objector or the permittee or the responsibilities of the department pursuant to this section, the department may establish an informal conference to resolve written objections.
(f) For the purpose of the hearing under subsection (6)(d), the department may administer oaths, subpoena witnesses or written or printed materials, compel the attendance of witnesses or the production of materials, and take evidence, including but not limited to conducting inspections of the land affected and other operations carried on by the permittee in the general vicinity. A verbatim record of each public hearing required by this section must be made, and a transcript must be made available on the motion of any party or by order of the department.
(g) If the applicant significantly modifies the application after the application has been determined to be administratively complete, the department shall conduct a new review, including an administrative completeness determination. A significant modification includes but is not limited to:
(i) the notification of an additional property owner, local governmental body, planning agency, or sewage and water treatment authority of the permittee's intention to seek a bond release;
(ii) a material increase in the acreage for which a bond release is sought or in the amount of bond release sought; or
(iii) a material change in the reclamation for which a bond release is sought or the information used to evaluate the results of that reclamation.
(h) The department shall, within 30 days of determining that the application is administratively complete or as soon as weather permits, conduct an inspection and evaluation of the reclamation work involved. In the evaluation, the department shall consider, among other things, the degree of difficulty in completing any remaining reclamation, whether pollution of surface and subsurface water is occurring, the probability of continuance or future occurrence of the pollution, and the estimated cost of abating the pollution.
(i) The department shall review each administratively complete application to determine the acceptability of the application. A complete application is acceptable if the application is in compliance with all of the applicable requirements of this part, the rules adopted under this part, and the permit.
(j) (i) The department shall notify the applicant in writing regarding the acceptability of the application no later than 60 days from the date of the inspection.
(ii) If the department determines that the application is not acceptable, it shall specify in the notice those items that the application must address.
(iii) If the applicant revises the application in response to a notice of unacceptability, the department shall review the revised application and notify the applicant in writing within 60 days of the date of receipt as to whether the revised application is acceptable.
(iv) If the revision constitutes a significant modification, the department shall conduct a new review, beginning with an administrative completeness determination.
(v) A significant modification includes but is not limited to:
(A) the notification of an additional property owner, local governmental body, planning agency, or sewage and water treatment authority of the permittee's intention to seek a bond release;
(B) a material increase in the acreage for which a bond release is sought or the amount of bond release sought; or
(C) a material change in the reclamation for which a bond release is sought or the information used to evaluate the results of that reclamation.
(k) At the request of the permittee, and for a designated area within the permit boundary within or across affected drainage basins, the department shall release the bond in whole or in part if the reclamation covered by the bond or portion of the bond has been accomplished as required by this part according to the following schedule:
(i) When the permittee completes the plugging, backfilling, regrading, and drainage control of a bonded area in accordance with the approved reclamation plan, the department shall release 60% of the bond or collateral for the designated area within the permit boundary.
(ii) The department shall release a portion of the bond for the designated area that would be sufficient for a third party to cover the cost of replacing soil after revegetation and soil stability have been established in the designated area in accordance with the approved reclamation plan. Whenever a silt dam is to be retained as a permanent impoundment, that portion of the bond may also be released under this subsection (6)(k)(ii) if provisions for sound future maintenance by the operator or the landowner are made with the department.
(iii) Except as provided in subsection (6)(k)(iv), in accordance with the requirements of 82-4-235, upon expiration of the period specified for responsibility, and after the designated area has been successfully revegetated, the remaining total of the bond required for a third party to establish vegetation must be released for the designated area.
(iv) The department shall retain a portion of the bond sufficient for a third party to fully satisfy remaining permit conditions if:
(A) the disturbed areas eligible for release are contributing suspended solids to streamflow or runoff outside of the affected drainage basin or permit boundary in excess of the requirements of 82-4-231(10)(k);
(B) soil productivity for prime farmlands eligible for release is not returned to equivalent levels of yield as nonmined land of the same soil type in the surrounding area under equivalent management practices, as determined from the soil survey; or
(C) the permittee has not successfully completed all reclamation activities, including water replacement, in the designated area.
(v) On request by the permittee, the department shall release all final bonds when, in accordance with the requirements of this chapter, the permittee successfully completes all prospecting, mining, and reclamation activities within the designated area.
(l) If the department disapproves the application for release of the bond or a portion of the bond, it shall:
(i) provide to the permittee detailed written findings demonstrating that the reclamation covered by the bond or a portion of the bond has not been accomplished as required by this part; and
(ii) recommend corrective actions necessary to secure the release and allowing opportunity for a public hearing.
(m) When an application for total or partial bond release is filed with the department, it shall notify the municipality or county in which a prospecting or mining operation is located by certified mail at least 30 days prior to the release of all or a portion of the bond.
(7) All disturbed areas must be reclaimed in a timely manner to conditions that are capable of supporting the land uses that they were capable of supporting prior to any mining or to higher or better uses as approved pursuant to subsection (8).
(8) (a) An operator may propose a higher or better use as an alternative postmining land use. If the landowner is not the operator, the operator shall submit written documentation of the concurrence of the landowner or the land management agency with jurisdiction over the land. The department may approve the proposed alternative postmining land use only if it meets all of the following criteria:
(i) There is a reasonable likelihood for achievement of the alternative land use.
(ii) The alternative land use does not present any actual or probable hazard to the public health or safety or any threat of water diminution or pollution.
(iii) The alternative land use will not:
(A) be impractical or unreasonable;
(B) be inconsistent with applicable land use policies or plans;
(C) involve unreasonable delay in implementation; or
(D) cause or contribute to violation of federal, state, or local law.
(b) As used in this section, the term "landowner" includes a person who has sold the surface estate to the operator with an option to repurchase the surface estate after mining and reclamation are complete.
(9) The reclamation plan must incorporate appropriate wildlife habitat enhancement features that are integrated with cropland, grazing land, pastureland, land occasionally cut for hay, or other uses in order to enhance habitat diversity, with emphasis on big game animals, game birds, and threatened and endangered species that have been documented to live in the area of land affected, and to enhance wetlands and riparian areas along rivers and streams and bordering ponds and lakes. Incorporation of wildlife habitat enhancement features does not constitute a change in land use to fish and wildlife habitat and may not interfere with the designated land use.
(10) Facilities existing prior to mining, including but not limited to public roads, utility lines, railroads, or pipelines, may be replaced as part of the reclamation plan.