“The toxic tailings will always be in the canyon, but has all been removed to what Ted Fitzgerald, director of the cleanup, called “a high and dry place” that prevents heavy metal from leaching into the river. This “high and dry” alternative is far cheaper than a complete removal of the tailings.”
“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 andhave 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.” Ted Fitzgerald
“U.S. Forest Service officials have consequently called in a hazardous materials expert, Ted Fitzgerald, to conduct an expensive cleanup and reclamation operation that’s just a step below being classified as a Superfund site.
“We’re looking at a major reclamation effort in the canyon,” said
Fitzgerald, on-scene coordinator for the American Fork Canyon Hazmat Project.”
He said the effort was designated in 1993 by the Environmental Protection Agency as a Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Inventoried Site.
“That’s in the same category as a Superfund site,” he said.
It’s also legally necessary to comply with the stipulations in the Clean Water Act passed in 1972, he said.
Targeted as the primary pollution sites are the Pacific Mine, the Globe Mine, the Bog Mines, the Yankee Mines and the area of Dutchman Flat. The Bog Mine soil samples show high levels of both lead and zinc. The Yankee Mines in the Mary Ellen Gulch area show a high level of both lead and zinc…..ground water in the canyon is at risk and the situation is unhealthy overall for the canyon environment.
“Macroinvertebrates are one measure of an environment’s health,” he said.
“Currently, potentially lethal heavy metals are leaching from the Live Yankee Mine waste piles and being carried to the stream in Mary Ellen Gulch. The water from the mine contains 10 times the metal content acceptable by Clean Water standards and is killing almost all the water insects that are crucial to the survival of fish downstream. The plan to redirect this water around the mine waste through conduits was deemed the most environmental and economically feasible solution considering the remoteness of Mary Ellen Gulch, an area adjacent to Snowbird’s Mineral Basin. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that more than 500,000 abandoned mine sites litter the western landscape, affecting 16,000 miles of streams.”
“AMERICAN FORK CANYON — An $800,000 three-year effort to remove old mine tailings from public lands in American Fork Canyon is nearly done, but those leading the project say efforts must now shift to private land holdings.
“We’ve taken care of 25 percent of the problem,” said Ted Fitzgerald, who has been supervising the canyon cleanup. “There’s another 75 percent still up there, but it’s on private land. To do more, we need everyone to work together.”
“In the “Live Yankee” underground mine, Fitzgerald estimates there are 35,000 cubic yards of waste material left from the mines worked during the late 1800s and early 1900s — waste piles that produce acid mine drainage that includes arsenic, lead, zinc, iron and cadmium.
In the Mary Ellen Gulch draw itself, mining from the Globe Mine has disturbed similar material, which the water picks up and carries downstream, creating potential hazards for people recreating in campgrounds and forest areas.
Cleaning up the Globe Mine will be especially difficult because the water will have to be separated from the waste material. Access is severely limited, and the project will be expensive since solutions aren’t obvious or easy.”
Efforts to find the owners of the Globe and Live Yankee mines properties, however, haven’t been successful. (Snowbird)
“The Environmental Protection Agency would’ve done all of this,” Fitzgerald said, “but 9/11 hit and the funds were all diverted in other directions. I think this is an opportunity now for citizens to step up and say, ‘The terrorists won’t win! They won’t stop us.’ “
“Since it was abandoned, the legacy of the mine has become poisonous.”
“This has had disastrous effects on a stream in Mary Ellen Gulch. Two Forest Service studies showed that macro-invertebrates “tiny simple organisms that fish depend on for food ” were “plentiful and robust” in the stream above the mine, but for several thousand feet below the mine, they were “nearly nonexistent.” The demise of these creatures is “due directly to the high levels of zinc in the stream.””
What looks like muddy water entering clear water is actually a creek being contaminated by poison. Ted Fitzgerald, with Trout Unlimited, said, “It kills all of the insects that live in the water, which is what the fish feed on.”
For about 50 years, a mine there produced silver, gold, and lead. The entrance collapsed years ago, but water still flows out. Snowbird crews are damming it up and diverting the flow into a pipe. Jim Baker, with Snowbird, said, “We will divert 100 percent of the water into the pipe, which will then go into the stream.”
For decades, the mine water has been flowing out of the mine, across the top of toxic mine tailings and percolating through them on its way to the creek. “It picks up heavy metals. That includes lead, zinc, arsenic, cadmium and a whole variety of heavy metals,” Fitzgerald said.
In addition to killing insects, studies found the toxic metals in tissues of fish. At one point, the state issued warnings for people eating fish caught above Tibble Fork Reservoir.”
“Since the greatest share of mining activity in this region occurred long before most of the current population was either born or took residence in the region, the potential public health hazard resulting from historic mine sites has yet to be recognized. “