Show your support for community science. Donate to Public Lab »

The Public Lab Blog

stories from the Public Lab community

About the blog | Research | Methods

What happens when the mining stops? Focus on Reclamation

by mlamadrid | over 3 years ago | 0 | 1

Article by Gretchen Gehrke, Mathew Lippincott and Cheryl Miller for Community Science Forum: Sand-Frac Issue.

“Our major concern is, if they just walk away whose shoulders does reclamation fall on? The town, the landowner, or the county?”

Reclamation is the process of preparing land for another use after mining activities cease. Prior to granting a permit to operate a mine, the county must approve a “reclamation plan” including land’s post-mining use. Many communities are concerned that typical reclamation plans will leave lands significantly degraded compared to their pre-mining state and unprepared for beneficial uses consistent with local land use plans.

Many mines were forested hillsides before mining, and will be flatter land after reclamation. Sustaining plant vitality after reclamation can be difficult, especially if the reclamation plan includes such soil intensive uses as agriculture. During stockpiling of the overburden layers (soil on top of the mined bedrock) soils rapidly degrade, and may take decades to centuries to re-develop1. In the meantime, mines in the process of reclamation can have significant erosion problems, be hosts to invasive species, and promote groundwater seepage at the base of reclaimed piles. This seepage could introduce surface and groundwater quality concerns such as mobilized heavy metals in oxidized and acidified soils.

In addition to environmental concerns around sand mine reclamation, communities also face economic concerns. To discuss some economic concerns, Mathew Lippincott spoke with Cheryl Miller, president of Save The Hills Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the natural environment in western Wisconsin. Mathew and Cheryl’s conversation is transcribed here:

Between ¹⁄3 and ½ of all frac sand operations are paused but you’re still concerned2. What issues are still active?

Even though they aren’t actively working the mines there are still huge piles of sand and holding ponds. We don’t know if those are being maintained, but the companies seem to only respond to complaints. Our major concern is, if they just walk away whose shoulders does reclamation fall on? The town, the landowner, or the county? We don’t know, and there are legal loopholes that could leave us footing the bill as taxpayers or fighting expensive lawsuits as a town.

How did you get involved, and long have you been concerned about the mines?

I’ve been involved in opposing frac sand mine expansion since 2005, when the Hoffman Hills mine was proposed to go in across from the site of our future home. We were not yet living there as we hadn’t built the house we were planning, but we received no notification from the town or county that a large mine was proposed. We formed a coalition and successfully opposed the mine. Different members of the coalition were concerned with the neighborhood, the mines’ position next to Hoffman Hills state park, and the mine’s proximity to Muddy Creek. A group called Save Our Hills came out of the effort, and a few years later we joined with other groups to form Save The Hills Alliance. After all that I thought, if I can get on the local board to be town clerk, maybe this wouldn’t happen to other people.

Frac sand operators came in with promises of increased revenue for towns and counties, how has that worked out?

The boom/bust cycle has brought temporary income that may never cover the cost of having mines. Here in Tainter Township, Fairmount Minerals is over a billion dollars in debt and has laid off 55 employees locally. We have no idea what will happen. We only collect approximately $10,500 in taxes from them each year and aren’t relying on the mine’s income, but many towns have planned around the income from mines. Chippewa Falls has a Tax Increment Financial District supporting downtown improvements based on their real and personal property taxes from EOG. Blair township has payments reserved for their school district, and a lot of counties and townships have a ‘wheel tax’ or production tax of 10-15 cents a ton. When the mines close they won’t get that, and if they planned around these taxes they could be in trouble. You mentioned that you’re concerned about a legal loophole that may let mines escape accountability, can you say more? We are still determining if a legal loophole in NR 135.40 will allow banks to cancel the reclamation bonds when they see an impending bankruptcy.3 While the intent of the law is to allow a company to change bonds, the wording may allow a bank to cancel the bond with 90 days notice, and if the mine doesn’t shut down operations, county officials wouldn’t be able to prove the company had failed to reclaim. There’s no case law on the statute and we could face an expensive lawsuit.

How do you plan to keep attention on the mine? What needs to be done?

Monitoring these mines is important to keep the pressure on. In Augusta complaints have kept the mining companies watering their piles so dust doesn’t blow off site. We need to get pictures not just to keep the mines honest, but also to bring attention to the fact that even though they aren’t operating, we’re still being affected.


(1) See a summary here:

(2) December 2015: DNR says 84 open, 40 closed facilities.

June 2015: Midwest Energy News lists 58 inactive and 63 active mines.


Read more Follow

wisconsin blog frac-sand midwest

PL with FA @ Venice Bienalle

by hagitkeysar | over 3 years ago | 2 | 6

I have had a really huge opportunity to join the work of the curator Debby Farber from the Israeli organization "Zochrot" and Eyal Weizman of Forensic Architecture that concerns the ongoing displacement of the Bedouin village of al-Araqib in the south of Israel. Together with Ariel Caine - who is an artist and researcher in Goldsmith's Center for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths - we have worked with a few totally inspiring and resilient activists, Aziz al-Turi and Nuri al-Uqbi, from the village in creating kite and balloon aerial photography, which were processed by Ariel into 3D models, with the intention to produce vivid aerial testimonies of systemic violence and abuse of human rights. This work is now presented as part of Forensic Architecture's projects in the Venice Bienalle (The International/Italian Pavilion in the Giardini and the V&A Cast Courts at the Arsenale). There are four cases presented by FA, the investigations include 1) the drone strike in Miranshah, Pakistan March 30, 2012, 2) Israel's attack on Rafah/Gaza August 1, 2014, 3) the lethal effects of the EU 's policies of non-assistance in the central Mediterranean 2014-2015, and 4) displacement and environmental destruction along Climatic Frontiers al-Araqib/Palestine and Wede'rã/Brazil 2016. Above, the main image shows a sparse point cloud created by Ariel based on one of the kite/balloon surveys we conducted in the area of al-Araqib in last April.

Below you can see one of the light tables created by FA people, the one representing the forth case that includes the use of Public Lab's DIY aerial photography. It is high resolution, if you click the image you can see details. Case4.jpg

The forth case was also presented in a 30 minutes film, by Armin Linke, Alina Schmuch and Jan Kisswetter, from which I have extracted some image, below.

In the film, Eyal presents the two cases in Palestine and Brazil - two zones, two villages, one at the northern threshold of the Sahara, crossing Israel-Palestine and the other at the southern amazon area. In Palestine, it is a case of afforestation in order to push the desert and displace its inhabitant, while in Brazil it is the line of the forest which is being cleared to make agricultural fields. "In both we have native people that are being displaced". This image was taken while doing kite photography in the southern Amazon. As described by one of the researchers*, this area is going through processes of slow violence through "gradual degradation and destruction of the forest for logging, fire and conversion to pasture land and plantation". These intervention are "destroying the very condition of modes of lives that rely on the forest and sustain the forest itself and the people who live in it. The killing of the forest is the killing of the people. Killing of people is also the killing of the forest." Screen_Shot_2016-05-17_at_22.32.38.png

The image below, which was taken with a kite and a go-pro camera, captured the entire extent of the village. "You can see a small village of about ten homestead, it is a kind of a forest clearing within that area. It allows to start looking for those villages that has been destroyed and displaced. If you measure and take the form of the village you can start looking for the places that were destroyed from other parts of the forest. Screen_Shot_2016-05-17_at_21.56.03.png

The images below are showing the stitched aerial photograph we created and a moment during the flight of the kite camera in al Araqib. Screen_Shot_2016-05-17_at_21.59.21.png


  • Apologies, the names were not mentioned in the draft version of the film which I watched.

** Thanks for Ives Rocha and VJ pixel of Public Lab for assisting in figuring out logistics for carrying out the balloon and kite aerial photography in Brazil.

Read more Follow

balloon-mapping kite-mapping 3d brazil

Public Lab River Rat Pack -- St. Louis – Xiaoqing Qin

by Xiaoqing | almost 4 years ago | 0 | 1

Have been in St. Louis for three years for my master of landscape architecture in Washington University, it is Derek’s Public Lab River Rat Pack class for the first time that gave me such a series of site visits systematically along the rivers and the water system around. The large number of aerial photos from our balloon/kite flies in different angles amazed me: there are so many details I have never noticed in and along the rivers before when I was looking at aerial photos from other online sources like Google Earth for my other projects, and I think the accumulation of those details are shaping the landscape and will make a big difference for us to understand how the influence of water on our living environment.

I started to document my own observation by creating the water flow diagrams generating from aerial photos, collaborating with students diagraming vegetation and water infrastructure. These water flow diagrams are my personal interpretation of the direction and velocity of both the river water and the storm water, which I regard them as a work in-between science and design. There is the beauty of the natural water flows, shaped by Mother Nature’s geology millions years ago, which is quit missing in our urban landscape today. The next time if recreating any waterscape in the urban context, maybe we will have inspirations from here. There is the warning of human occupation at the riverfront. The flood is ruthless to anything in front, no guarantee our flood-preventing facility can work every time. At the same time, the increase of impervious surface and channelized riverbed in urbanized area keep adding power to the storm water. There is the ecological value behind, where water slow down, curve back and deposit, the sediment and nutrient create small refugees for certain plants and animals.

In the end, I want to appreciate the opportunity to work with students of science background and other design disciplines, and meet different people in the community. I learned a lot from you and I am proud we have such a wonderful exhibition with everybody's work together. I hope there will be more other engagement to keep the project going in the future.


Read more Follow

balloon-mapping blog mississippi-river mid-west

Public Lab River Rat Pack -- St. Louis -- Exhibition

by derekhoeferlin | almost 4 years ago | 4 | 4

Since January, 2016 the Public Lab River Rat Pack (led by Architect and Assistant Professor Derek Hoeferlin) has documented multiple river edge conditions in the St. Louis, Missouri region, near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Some map the difference between high and low river stages; others map the intensity of industrial uses along the rivers; others map more ecological areas; and, all question the profound lack of access by the public to the rivers. Hoeferlin led a seminar at Washington University in St. Louis that included undergraduate and graduate architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, construction management and earth and planetary studies students. The work is ongoing, and we are looking forward to collaborate with others in St. Louis, and beyond. The exhibition of the work will be on display in Givens Hall at Washington University though mid-May. More posts are forthcoming from the students including more in depth explanations of findings from each site and the process of collaboration with the community. Thanks to Public lab, Washington University, the US Army Corps of Engineers, Audubon Institute at Riverlands, and others, for the time and support!









Read more Follow

balloon-mapping blog mississippi-river barnstar:basic

Highlights: Working with Communities in the DIY Oil Testing Booklet

by stevie | almost 4 years ago | 9 | 1

The second section of the new DIY Oil Testing Booklet, which we’re highlighting this week, is focused on Working with Communities.

In this section, you will find four workshops ready to help you lead a group through:

  • designing an experiment
  • building a spectrometer
  • calibration and scanning
  • finally analyzing your results

Check out the workshops here:


To highlight #1:

The Design an Experiment workshop can be used for anyone who is interested in conducting experiments which make use of the scientific method. It will help you work through understanding the capabilities and limitations of data. Participants in this workshop will be able to learn about the elements needed for good experimental design, identify important points of designing a clear experiment, draft questions and transform them into hypotheses, and explored the concept of proof versus likelihood.

This section of the Oil Testing Booklet also explores the nuances of working with both online and offline community members. It provides material on outreach strategies for those working at different stages in projects. It explains how Public Lab run an online program for people to helped identify and to show the ability and limitations of the Oil Testing Kit through replication.

For those interested in community tool development, another section in this chapter explores the new concept of “Open open hardware” -- a reference to the fact that many “open hardware” projects are developed in private and only published openly upon completion. By contrast, the process we’ve proposed and begun to adopt is one where the goals includes things like:

  • low barrier to entry for new contributors
  • predictable revision timeline
  • regular iteration and feedback on proposed changes to help them get prepared for the next release due date
  • a single, consistent, versioned, "baseline" design for the project, emphasizing simplicity & low cost, but upon which advanced mods may be made

Learn more about the workshops, the programs and ideas explored in this project with the Oil Testing Kit Booklet:

Order here ($10 paperback)

Read more Follow

spectrometer community workshops blog

Camp Code: How to navigate a refugee settlement

by clauds | almost 4 years ago | 1 | 3

This blog post is the beginning of an article published at Places Journal on 5 April 2016. It is about Bourj Al Shamali refugee camp and provides background understanding of the situation in the camp where recently a Public Lab Chapter was set up. For the full version of the article (with all the foot notes, photos and links), please refer to original article in Places Journal.


Start with the obvious: not all refugee camps are the same. The experiences of some 60 million people --- "one in every 122 humans," according to the United Nations --- cannot be generalized. They live in tarp shelters, tents, shipping containers, or concrete buildings; in formal settlements administered by the UN, or in makeshift camps on the urban fringe. They are refugees, asylum seekers, stateless, internally displaced. Around the world, their numbers are increasing.

In Lebanon, the crisis (or, rather, series of crises) has been going on since 1948. More than 1 million Syrians and 450,000 Palestinians --- an astonishing one quarter of the population --- live in twelve official refugee camps and hundreds of informal settlements. The oldest camps, once considered temporary, are home to third- and fourth-generation refugees. These are not tent camps but dense spaces of concrete and asphalt, urban materializations of an ongoing state of emergency.

What goes on inside a refugee camp? How is it organized spatially and materially? In these brief sketches, I invite readers to navigate the Palestinian camp of Bourj Al Shamali, situated high on a hill in southern Lebanon, overlooking the Mediterranean city of Tyre. Built as a temporary refuge in 1955, it is now an overcrowded, unplanned, permanent 'city-camp' housing 23,000 registered refugees in 135,000 square meters. It would be easy to drive right past it, mistaking it for a poor district of the adjacent village that shares its name. Seven decades after the camp was founded, what distinguishes the supposedly temporary from the supposedly permanent is anything but clear.


##The Entrance Checkpoint

Your first stop is a Lebanese Army checkpoint on the main entrance road. Foreigners need a permit to enter the camp. It's not hard to obtain, but it takes a few days, and it helps to know someone who can shepherd your request through the mukhabarat, the army intelligence service. The permit system deters curious strangers and helps authorities monitor the population. It also makes the camp feel like an open-air prison. Strict access controls and constant surveillance discourage visits from friends and family members and remind refugees that their life is not entirely their own.

Leaving the camp is easier, at least in tranquil times. You won't trigger any controls, other than a wave from the soldier on duty. But the checkpoint is fickle: it can be strict or lax, depending on current events and the mood of the guards.

Fifty meters down the road is a second checkpoint, run by Fatah. 8 Here a Palestinian soldier stands at attention, hand on his gun, while middle-aged men sit in white plastic chairs, drinking coffee and discussing politics. They don't check papers. At most, you'll get a hard stare. Bourj Al Shamali is one of the quietest Palestinian camps in Lebanon, and these are relatively quiet times.


##Crossing the Border If you don't have a permit, you can still get in. There are five unofficial entrances: former village streets barricaded with cement blocks that allow pedestrians to pass, but not cars. The camp is irregularly shaped, following the property lines of land rented by the Lebanese government for 99 years. Within these borders, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has provided services since 1955.

When you cross that border, you are in a zone of urban informality. 9 The unplanned streets and haphazard buildings announce that this is a place of legal exception, outside regulation, where a state of emergency is the norm. 10 On every corner you see reminders of the Arab-Israeli conflict: political graffiti, posters of "martyrs" lost in battle, paintings of the Dome of the Rock and of keys that symbolize the properties left behind in historic Palestine.

There is no wall surrounding the refugee camp; in some cases, construction goes right up to the street barricades. On the southern and eastern borders, lush orange trees and banana plantations lie beyond a barbed wire fence.


##Don't Look for a Map On public maps of Lebanon --- paper or online --- refugee camps are often shown as gray blobs, with no detailed view of the street plan. Useful maps of Bourj Al Shamali exist, but they are held tightly by international organizations who regard the circulation of such knowledge as a security risk. That partly explains the unplanned growth. To live without a map is to exist without a future, in a space forever uncharted. Maps of historic Palestine, on the other hand, are everywhere: on flags and banners, walls, keychains, t-shirts. 11

To live without a map is to exist without a future, in a space forever uncharted. There are no signed streets or alleys, either. Here the hill helps you get your bearings, but it's easy to get lost in the jumble of alleys (especially compared to the nearby camps Rashadiyeh and Al Bass, which were built in the 1930s for Armenian refugees and planned by the French on a street grid). The camp is divided informally into neighborhoods named after agricultural villages in the Safad and Tiberias regions of Palestine. When the first refugees arrived, they moved in groups and settled with others from their home villages. 12 Even today, people in Bourj Al Shamali give directions that incorporate landmarks from those old villages. This way of navigating depends on a collective memory of place that is shared even by younger generations who have never visited the referents for the local toponyms.

That shared memory is maintained by groups like Al Houlah Association, which runs the main library in camp. Named after a lake in Palestine that bordered many of the old villages (now the Hula Valley Natural Reserve in Israel), the association aims to reconnect the community with its heritage and to reinforce a sense of civil society. Recently, signs have been installed on houses in camp that report details about the inhabitants' villages of origin.

For more:>

Read more Follow

blog bourjalshamali