Removal of Contaminated Mining Waste in AFC
Appears that Snowbird moved mine tailings without proper oversight, if this is not the case, they would have invoices and contracts to demonstrate they were move with permission of the EPA.
Removal of Contaminated Mining Waste In the North Fork of American Fork Canyon
Information Provided by Ted V. Fitzgerald, January 27, 2016
In 1999 I was recruited by the Forest Service to move from my position on the Fish Lake National Forest to
become the On-Scene Coordinator for American Fork Canyon. In that position it was my responsibility to
determine where the heavy metal loadings in the stream in the North Fork of AFC were being generated and
what could be done to reduce those loadings. The loadings refers to the amount of heavy metals such as
Copper, Zinc, Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium and other heavy metals dissolved and suspended in the water in the
There had been some preliminary investigations that targeted specific abandoned hard rock mines, mills and
smelters as those significantly responsible for the metals in the stream. I engaged with the EPA and the
Bureau of Reclamation to learn the Federally mandated process and methods required to perform Removal
Actions at the various mine related sites. A removal action is generally the excavation and disposal of the
mine wastes, isolating them from interaction with the environment factors like wind and rain as well as the
human activity occurring at these abandoned sites.
To satisfy the required stipulations to allow a removal action I had to thoroughly test the soil (mine waste
material), water contacting or in the vicinity of the waste material, macro-invertebrates present in the stream
(insects that live in the water), and even the fish. What we found was the stream in the vicinity of the mine
waste contained elevated levels of metals; generally higher in suspended solids and to a lesser degree
dissolved metals. The waste rock in the piles adjacent to the mine portals contained some heavy metal
concentrations exceeding allowable levels for soil at sites in the remote locations, yet accessible to humans
and resident animals, such as the upper reaches of the North Fork of AFC. Every site had a different
combination and concentration of the heavy metals depending on the ore sources the miners were exploiting.
We also found a reduced number of species and abundance of macro-invertebrates where the metals loadings
in the stream were elevated. The native fish that had hatched and grown up in these waters also had high
concentrations of metals however only one metal exceeded the amount maximum amount recommended by
the Utah Department of Environmental Quality for human consumption. That metal was arsenic. A fish
consumption advisory was issued for the North Fork above Tibble Fork Reservoir which remained in place
for just over a year. Further tests determined the predominant amount of Arsenic was organic arsenic with
some inorganic as well. If the proportions of organic and inorganic arsenic were reversed the consumption
advisory would still be in place. The fish were determined to be acceptable for human consumption once this
determination was made.
As I investigated the sources of contamination creating the metal loadings in the North Fork streams I visited
and tested nearly every site of any significance in the drainage above Major Evans. That included the Tyng
Mines on the Mineral Basin side of Miller Hill, the various mines deposits in the Pittsburg Lake basin, those
on the face of Miller Hill, the dozen or so mines in Mary Ellen Gulch, but with the emphasis on those sites on
Forest Service Land in close vicinity to the stream in the North Fork of AFC.
At the Live Yankee Mines we tested everything but fish as there are none that high in Mary Ellen Gulch. The
waste rock piles had elevated levels of heavy metals exceeding clean soil standards. The stream above the
mining disturbances adjacent to the stream did not contain metals in excess of acceptable standards and the
macro-invertebrate populations were diverse and robust. But as the stream entered the mining disturbed area
upstream from the Live Yankee, continuing thru the Live Yankee site and for a ¼ mile downstream the metals
in the stream exceeded acceptable standards and the Macro-invertebrates were decimated. In the ¼ mile of
stream below the Live Yankee there are numerous springs and side canyon inflows that increase the water
volume (cubic feet per second) high enough that the metal loadings in the water were diluted and are back to
acceptable levels and the macro-invertebrate populations were representative of a high mountain stream. The
contamination of the natural resources in Mary Ellen Gulch is localized near the mining locations. Mary
Ellen Gulch stream did not exceed acceptable standards again until it reached the site of the Sultana Smelter
at the confluence with the North Fork of AFC stream.
Searches were made through mining claims and property records to determine if any of the mines the Forest
Service performed removal actions on still had Potentially Responsible Parties (PRP) that might be required
to participate in the cost and activities of the removal actions. It was determined that there was only one PRP
still alive, or licensed for business activities. That was a man who still had claims at the Bog Mine in Mineral
Basin. However, he was elderly and of limited financial resources so he was not considered a viable PRP.
All the removal actions performed on Forest Service Lands were funded by Forest Service funds allocated for
I learned thru my involvement in the North Fork of AFC that under the Federal Mining Laws a person or
entity that purchases a parcel of land that contains an abandoned mine with contaminated waste piles are not a
viable PRP. That is until they disturb the mine wastes or engage in active mining at that site and produce
more wastes. Disturbance of the site is defined roughly as moving equipment onto the site and disturbing the
surface of the waste rock or changing the topography of the waste pile. At that point they become a PRP and
have liability for any environmental damage resulting from that site. They are not liable for that
environmental damage as a landowner until they become a viable PRP.
I contacted Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort to invite them to participate in the removal action that the
Forest Service was going to conduct at the Pacific Mine site. The configuration of that site had a mill tailings
pond on Forest Service Land adjacent to a waste rock pile and abandoned mill site on Snowbird’s Land. They
were invited to pay for the removal of the waste rock and the contaminated soils in and around the mill site
and have them disposed of in a Hazardous Waste Repository the Forest Service was constructing at Dutchman
Flat to contain all the mine waste we removed from Forest Service Land in the North Fork. Snowbird
declined that invitation because of the liability that opened them up to at that site as well as the cost to remove
the materials and share in the perpetual maintenance of the repository. The liability was the determining
factor in their decision as it was explained to me.
I note that not all the waste rock from all the mines on NFS Land was removed under our removal action.
Some mines were so remote and located such that we would have created far greater environmental damage
through road construction and the excavation of the piles than those piles contributed to the environment.
They were better off left alone environmentally.
After completing the removal action on NFS Lands in the North Fork of AFC, I retired from Federal
employment. Two months later Trout Unlimited, a Conservation Organization, contacted me with an offer to
continue as an On-Scene Coordinator in the North Fork of AFC working for them to continue the removal of
contaminated mine wastes on private land, specifically Snowbird’s properties. So for the next 3 years I was
engaged in that operation. Snowbird was agreeable to converting the waste pile at the Pacific Mine into a
repository to contain those wastes as well as the contaminated soils at the mill site and two other mines in the
vicinity. One of those waste piles had been dumped over a hillside about 100 feet above the North Fork
stream extending all the way down into the stream.
But there was a caveat to Snowbird’s and Trout Unlimited’s participation in this proposed action. Neither
entity was willing to participate unless the EPA regulations concerning liability in said action could be
rewritten to exempt the Conservation Organization and the Land Owner participating with them from further
liability at the site once the removal action as approved by the EPA was completed. This was a lengthy and
complicated task to complete but Trout Unlimited worked with the EPA through the contacts I had there and
those liability regulations were modified to allow this Nation’s first-of-a-kind participating removal action
involving a Conservation Organization to proceed.
I designed the repository and received approval of that design from the EPA. We proceeded with the removal
action with an Earmark of NRCS funds by Senator Bob Bennett and Snowbird obtaining rental equipment and
providing and funding the fuel and the 4 operators to run the equipment. The month long project was
completed and subsequently accepted by the EPA. Neither entity has any liability for future environmental
developments at the repository or the sites that were cleaned up. Since then numerous other removal actions
have been completed by conservation organizations in several western states.
The project received awards from EPA and the State of Utah. This turned out to be a very positive public
opinion event for Snowbird. Immediately after that Bob Bonar, Vice CEO with Snowbird, asked what other
projects could Snowbird and Trout Unlimited do in the North Fork to improve environmental quality in and
around the various mine sites on land now owned by Snowbird. I told him there was only one remaining
project that I felt was left to be done. That was a project at the Live Yankee to capture the water discharging
from the top of a mine tunnel closed with an earth plug; i.e., soil material placed in the mine opening to
prevent entrance into the mine, and piping that water over to the stream in Mary Ellen Gulch where it was
That water was running down the earth plug approximately 50 feet and onto a bench that provided access to
the historic mine buildings, mine tunnels, and loading chute at the Live Yankee. The bench at this location
was of native material with a thin layer of rock covering the surface containing heavy metals. The beauty of
this project was that the water leaving the tunnel met standards for acceptable heavy metal concentrations but
the water running into the Mary Ellen stream had elevated levels of metals above acceptable standards. Using
Best Management Practices, piping the water directly into the stream the metal concentrations would be
reduced in the Mary Ellen stream.
Furthermore we could construct this piping system without disturbing any of the waste rock piles at the Live
Yankee. Contact was made with EPA, agreement issued and we proceeded with that project. Snowbird
funded the project while Trout Unlimited paid my salary. In recent inquiries over the last two weeks it has
been determined that the pipe installation is still functioning although a much smaller flow of water is coming
from springs in the hillside at the bench level and running into Mary Ellen stream.
Mr. Bonar again approached me about any possible projects related to the mines on Snowbird’s lands to
which I replied there were none. There is not an acceptable location in Mary Ellen Gulch to construct a
It was determined years ago by the Forest Service and EPA that a removal action at the Live Yankee or the
Globe Mine, or any other mines in the area, would create far more environmental damage than it would
remove. The only way to accomplish this without building a road system to access those sites and transport
the material from the canyon for disposal in a hazardous waste disposal site in the Salt Lake valley would be
to engage a fleet of helicopters to move the material. That option is simply not fiscally warranted under the
EPA regulations which includes an Engineering Evaluation and Cost Analysis, EE/CA, to determine the best
alternative as how to deal with individual sites containing potentially hazardous materials considering the
hazard represented and the cost to deal with it.
Because of the marginally elevated heavy metals in the deposits at the Live Yankee, the characteristics of the
waste rock in those deposits that forms a crust over the surface of the piles that almost eliminates erosion, and
the remote location of the site, the Live Yankee does not present a hazard to individuals that visit the site or to
Environmentally and fiscally responsibly, the best alternative to be implemented at the Live Yankee and other
mines deposits in Mary Ellen Gulch is to simply not disturb them (keep heavy equipment off of them) and let
them continue as they have for decades with environmental deterioration of the stream for a distance of less
than ¼ mile and no discernible negative effects beyond.