Restoration: Pennsylvania Mine cleanup to start in earnest beginning this month

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From the Summit Daily News (Breeana Laughlin):

Pennsylvania Mine bleeds heavy metals, or acid mine drainage, into Peru Creek and the Snake River. The Snake flows into Dillon Reservoir — a major water source for the Front Range.

The mine operated from 1879 through the early 1900s. Like many mines in the area, it sits in a pristine alpine valley. Today the Peru Creek valley, eight miles to the east of Keystone, serves as a year-round destination for recreation.

The mine is one of the largest contributors of human-caused heavy metal in the Snake River Watershed. Contaminants include aluminum, cadmium, copper, iron, lead, manganese and zinc. Exposure to these metals can cause irreversible and lifelong health problems in humans and wildlife.

This summer, the EPA will prep infrastructure to allow heavy equipment into the mine site in hopes of cutting off pollution sources. Meanwhile, the Colorado Division of Reclamation and Mining Safety will continue underground investigations to pinpoint where the toxic metals are originating and decipher which techniques should be used to best clean up the site…

EPA on-scene coordinator Paul Peronard expects the mine cleanup project to take place over three years, and cost about $3 million. Progress will be made in “finite, bite-size chunks,” he said…

Workers drilled holes into the ground and used a borehole camera to inspect the inside of the mine. The state-of-the-art technology was combined with maps from the 1920s to create a blueprint of the mine site…

Stakeholders then came up with a portal rehabilitation project. They dug and cut their way into the mine and installed very large culverts into two mine portals. The work required climbing through “hobbit holes” and dealing with 2 feet of muck, but it allowed researchers to get data about the amount of flow and level of contaminants coming through the F and C portals of the mine — where the bulk of the cleanup work will be done. The water found was “pretty nasty stuff.” The substance was a rusty orange color ­— very similar to the hue of the excavators on site. Geologists and engineers used dye to track water flows, created settlement ponds and revegetated disturbed areas…

In June, workers will prepare the mine site and stabilize the portals so more detailed underground investigations can be made. Geological engineer Graves’ plan is to install inner and outer bulkheads at the mine. The problem workers have with sealing waterways is a lack of rock and other landmass on top of the mine to contain underground water pressure, he said…

In addition to installing bulkheads in 2014 and 2015, stakeholders plan to cap waste and tailing piles in place with topsoil and vegetation to prevent erosion and contaminants from leaching. Any significant surface water pathways discovered during the underground investigations will also be sealed.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Nearly a century after miners finished digging millions of dollars worth of silver, lead and zinc out of the Pennsylvania Mine, heavy machinery will once again rumble through the high alpine Peru Creek Valley. But instead of burrowing deep into the ground to find precious metals, the workers this time will be trying to clean up the big mess left behind when the mine was abandoned. For decades, water coursing through the mine shafts has been dissolving minerals, resulting in acid mine drainage that pollutes Peru Creek and the Snake River. Concentrations of some metals, especially zinc, are high enough to kill trout…

The cleanup is a partnership between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety, the U.S. Forest Service, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and Summit County. For more information about the project please visit: http://www.snakerivertaskforce.org.

More Snake River Watershed coverage here and here.

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