The AMD & Art Project introduced a completely new method of designing a passive water treatment solution through the employment of art and the engagement an entire community.


Mine #6, Vintondale, Pennsylvania

1995 - 2005

Soil, limestone, engineered soils, native plants

Overall site is 40 acres

In collaboration with landscape architect Julie Bargmann, hydrogeologist Robert Deason, and historian T. Allan Comp

Acid mine drainage (AMD) is a nasty cocktail of heavy metals which continually seeps out the abandoned mines. Typically, passive and active solutions for acid mine drainage are constructed out of view, enclosed by a chain-link fence. The project’s initiator, historian Allan Comp began to feel strongly that the clean-up process for industrial water pollution should be a visible part of everyday experience. In 1997, he recruited a team to come up with a new vision. The team envisioned a treatment system that would engage the landscape by creating a park that celebrated the treatment of water, rather than render that process invisible.

Vintondale, PA, the site of the project, had been degraded by years of industrial coal extraction, and the local community was tired of large-scale fixes that resulted in the loss of landscape. The coal-mining industry had left the area with little in exchange for polluted water and man-made mountains of slag, the project was designed to do two things: to give the town of Vintondale a chance to reclaim its own backyard, and to preserve the paradox inherent in the cohabitation of natural beauty with the industrial past. Rather than create a sanitized landscape devoid of the dirty elements of coal mining, this artwork is meant highlight strange juxtapositions: resilient nature growing around a mixed palette of residual pollutants like “yellow boy”, “red dog”, and ‘boney”.

The project was twofold in its aim to create a living solution that framed the incongruities of nature and industrial toxins: to treat the water and to show the process. The team was fascinated by the moving parts of the treatment chain, and wanted to share this visual activity with the community. Seeing and enjoying the system energized the neighborhood; residents developed a sense of ownership and excitement about the project. Boy Scouts, horticulture groups, community service groups, and prisoners were some of the members of the community to get involved through a series of neighborhood meetings and field days, tree planting, and working activities to build site furnishings and create wildlife habitat.

The native plants reveal the condition of water going through treatment basins by mirroring its change in color from deep orange to yellow and then to pea green.

Raised plinths of soil planted with red twigged shrubs mark each mining building from the previous large-scale mining operation. A bike trail, baseball field, picnic grounds, and bird watching were also integrated into the design. The final rinse of water is through the series of wetlands allowing a slow merge back into Blacklick Creek.

Horticultural club helping plant the litmus garden.

Stacy Levy and T. Allan Comp during the planting for the litmus garden.

Mixing new soils of recycled paper, fly ash, and other soil building materials to create planting pits for the trees and shrubs of the litmus garden in the midst of a landscape of coal slag.

Just after the litmus garden was planted.