Cleanup work at one of Summit County’s most polluted landscapes will begin this month — more than a century after toxic metals were released from the Pennsylvania Mine site.
The mine operated from the late 1880s into the early 1930s. It produced more than $3 million in silver, lead and zinc. But the mine exposed a source of toxic heavy metals that drain into Peru Creek, choking fish from the stream and sending pollutants into the Snake River.
Today, Peru Creek is devoid of aquatic life. The Snake River, which the creek drains into, supports a limited number of species only in its lower reaches.
Individuals and groups have recognized the mine as a tainted site and have been trying to address the problem since the late 1980s. But until now, little has been done to terminate the source of the pollution.
“There have been several smaller mine cleanups in that basin with state and grant funding. But everyone has recognized that the major issue remains the Pennsylvania Mine,” said Brian Lorch, a county official overseeing open space and trails.
Part of the reason it’s taken so long to tackle the site is that no one has been able to take on the environmental liabilities that go along with the cleanup, Lorch said. Now, the EPA is taking the lead on the project, and several other regulatory agencies are on board.
Cleanup work at the mine portal is set to begin this month. The plan will be phased over several years and will address threats from the acidic discharge draining from the mine, as well as tailings and other waste found on the surface.
“This project is a big step forward to clean up a long-standing threat to the Snake River Watershed,” Paul Peronard stated in a press release.
Peronard is the EPA coordinator who will oversee the cleanup work.
“From mid-May to August, heavy equipment will be operating at the mine portal,” he said. “We are asking the public to avoid using the immediate area due to safety concerns.”
During construction Peru Creek Road will remain open, but there may be some brief periods of road closures. Increased truck traffic is expected during the summer. Four-wheel-drive access to Cinnamon Creek will be open, but access to the mine will be closed. The Dillon Ranger District will have specific information on scheduled road closures.