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Home News-Telegram News Mt. Martin Springs: That towering mound at the Thermo Mine off of State Highway 11 east is much more than a big pile of dirt

Mt. Martin Springs: That towering mound at the Thermo Mine off of State Highway 11 east is much more than a big pile of dirt

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Most everyone has seen a mountain, and many spectactuar mountain ranges can be found across the nation. In West Texas, there are the Davis Mountains, as well as those in the Big Bend that are part of the Great Rocky Mountains range, along with the lesser mounds found in the Hill Country.

And in Hopkins County we now have our own “mountain.”

There is only one, and unlike the aforementioned examples, it did not take eons to become what it is — although it’s only here temporarily.

By now, you might be wondering if someone slipped a tainted, fermented chili pequin in my plate of shrimp etouffeé, but it's true — there is really a mountain in Hopkins County, or at least something that passes for one here on the edge of the Plains and Prairies region of Texas.

This mountain, located near the Thermo Mine about 1.5 miles southeast of Sulphur Springs on State Highway 11, is easily seen from a couple of miles around. Because it is located so close to the Martin Springs community, some have taken to calling it “Martin Springs Mountain.”

Some might argue it’s just a pile of dirt. Technically, they would be right — but just how much do we know about our little mountain? As these things go, Martin Springs Mountain would only be a speck of dust when compared with a real mountain, but there is quite a lot more to it than meets the eye.

Reaching some 150 feet above the ground, Martin Springs Mountain is 1,200 feet long and covers 25 acres of ground. It is composed of sands and clays that were excavated to reach the lignite coal at Thermo Mine.

To mine lignite safely, the soil was moved to a central location, leaving a 60-foot deep pit. Excavators, bulldozers and large dump trucks, each capable of hauling 50 cubic yards in a single load, were used in the move.

In reality, Martin Springs Mountain is only a stockpile of soil that will, over the next couple of years, be used to back-fill the hole left by the coal mining process, according to Del McCabe, director of Luminant's Monticello Mines.

“Everything you're seeing near Highway 11 is part of our work to return the mined land to its previous condition, if not better,” McCabe said. “As an industry leader in land reclamation, our goal is to quickly restore mined land to productivity in an environmentally sound manner, and that's exactly what we are doing.”

While the excavation of the dirt to reach the coal is interesting — especially if you like watching really big equipment at work — the future of the earthen pile that makes up Martin Springs Mountain should prove to be equally interesting.

In the beginning, what is now Thermo Mine and the mountain was gently rolling, tree-studded pasture land with its own natural beauty. Within the next year or so, when reclamation efforts are completed, the land will be returned to its original appearance — only more attractive.

Reclamation is a process Luminant is proud of, and with good reason — they do a lot more than just put the dirt back in the hole. The company has received some 90 awards for reclamation excellence, including an unprecedented five Director's Awards, the highest honor from the United States Department of the Interior's Office of Surface Mining. Reclamation efforts at Thermo Mine alone have been recognized among the best in the nation more than once.

Even before state and federal laws governing reclamation were written, Luminant was already committed to restoring mined land, restoring it in an environmentally sound manner while adding value to the land in the process. Since the beginning of Luminant's reclamation and reforestation efforts 40 years ago, the company has reclaimed more than 68,000 acres of land and has planted more than 30 million trees.

Part of the reclamation process focuses on the terrain, stream channels and ponds. The company's environmental department, for example, will plant native trees and grasses as well as restore the land with a variety of landscapes, including ponds, wetlands, forests and pasture land.

As the area around Thermo Mine and the mountain are reclaimed, plans call for the planting of crimson clover, along with bermuda, switch, klein, vetch and rye grasses, and a variety of trees, including up to 10 species of red and white oak, pine, cypress and pecan.

Forbes vegetation — i.e., wildflowers — will also be planted as food for wildlife. The plant species were selected because they are native to the area.

According to Luminant, the reclamation landscapes are intentionally diverse to help encourage a variety of wildlife to inhabit the area. In other areas around Thermo Mine, deer, beavers, waterfowl and many other species have moved in and made homes there.

At Monticello Mines, which includes Thermo Mine and others between Hopkins and Titus counties, nearly 21,000 acres have been reclaimed so far and more than 10,000 acres have been released.

Thermo Mine has also played a significant role in the local economy, providing a number of jobs and a significant contribution to the tax bases of Hopkins County, Hopkins County Memorial Hospital District.

While many benefit from the mining operation, not many have given much thought about the life of the mine and how much lignite coal was there, the quantity is limited, and the end of the mine has been looming on the horizon.

The future of the mine was brought to the forefront in September when Luminant announced Thermo Mine, along with Monticello, would be closed due to a Environmental Protection Agency rule that would require dramatic reductions in the emissions from plants that burned lignite coal in the electric generating process.

With the end of 2011 came a closing date for the mines, but a respite came when high courts put the EPA rule on hold.

While Luminant was planning to shut down its operations, the importance of the mine to the local economy took front and center in many conversations.

Not only would a number of quality jobs be lost, the mine's departure would leave a hole in tax revenues in the county — more than $333,000 a year would have been lost from tax revenues this year.

Financially strapped Hopkins County stood to lose almost $91,000 in tax dollars, while Hopkins County Memorial Hospital District would see a loss of $34,700 and two school districts, Sulphur Springs and Como-Pickton, together would lose more than $200,000.

Although Thermo Mine will not live forever, the work done by Luminant in reclaiming the land could well last for eternity. When Martin Springs Mountain is moved back to the hole it came from, hundreds of landscaped acres will be returned to nature — and in even better condition than it was originally.

 

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