Cleanup options for B&B Mines narrowing
BRECKENRIDGE – Environmental consultants are narrowing down a lengthy list of cleanup options for the Jessie and Royal Tiger mine sites in the Swan River drainage.The cleanup is part of the purchaser’s agreement among the town of Breckenridge, Summit County and the landowners, B&B Mines. When the deal closes in June 2004, 1,840 acres, including the mine sites, will become public open space.The town and county plan to close on the $9 million purchase but want to make sure they won’t inherit any environmental problems left there from dredge and placer mining in the late 1800s.”There are no human issues; there are no water-quality issues,” said county open space and trails planner Brian Lorch. “We’re buying it, and we want to know if there’s anything we ever have to do there.”The Jessie Mill and Mine site is located southeast of the Breckenridge golf course in Gold Run Gulch. The Royal Tiger site is located five miles northeast of Breckenridge along Tiger Run Road. A third mine complex, the Wellington-Oro, is located in French Gulch.The county, town and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are working together to determine the extent of environmental damage and what needs to be done to remediate it. Key to that, Lorch said, is the ultimate purpose of the land.If the land were to be used for, say, a school site, EPA standards would be much higher. But the land is going to be set aside for open space values and recreation, so the standards are lower.For example, the level of heavy metals detected at the sites is negligible since the land is going to be used for open space, but could be more serious if it were to be used for residential uses.Additionally, the county and town are working under a state Targeted Brownfields Assessment, which allows the two entities to develop a list of cleanup alternatives.That is dramatically different than an Engineering Evaluation and Cost Analysis, in which the EPA outlines the possible alternatives and requires the applicant to comply with the preferred alternative.The county and town are also working under a state Volunteer Clean-up Plan that means the EPA and state cannot return in the future and sue because they will have signed off on the cleanup operations.The primary problem at the Royal Tiger site is that an adit, or mine shaft, is draining into the valley below. Additionally, B&B officials tried to bury and revegetate fine-grain tailings, but the vegetation didn’t grow. Also, fine-grain tailings – sediment mixed with heavy metals – farther downstream could kill fish in a flood.Problems at the Jessie Mine include the stream that currently flows through the mine tailings, contamination within the mine itself and the stability of the structure and the rocks around it.”If this one has any level of concern, it’s that it’s not very far from humans,” he said of the road that abuts the mine. “We want to make it safer.”Mediation efforts run that gamut, as they always do in environmental evaluations. Some solutions could be as easy as capping – burying – contaminated waste rock piles, revegetating those caps to prevent erosion and diverting streams away from the contaminated sites.On the other end of the spectrum – both in extent and cost – are passive treatment facilities, capping the entire stretch of dredge rock at the Royal Tiger site and lined repositories into which contaminated waste could be dumped.Lorch doesn’t envision anything to that extent.He believes work on the Jessie Mine and Mill site will involve moving the stream away from the mine site to prevent further erosion and to create a barrier for curious people. That would entail grading a new road for vehicles, mountain bikers, hikers and Nordic skiers.Other work would involve capping contaminated sites and perhaps erecting fences to keep people from hiking up into the building above the road.Likewise, work at the Royal Tiger Mine could involve capping contaminated sites and diverting the river around the area. Regardless which options are selected, the process won’t take place overnight.”It depends how important it is to the community to not have ugly mine sites,” Lorch said. “When I first moved here, I thought, “What ugly mine sites.’ Now that I’ve lived here awhile, I see how they’re interesting from an historic perspective.”Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, email@example.com.
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