Water cleanup begins at French Gulch mine site
BRECKENRIDGE After years of negotiations and multiple environmental studies, a Canadian company this week started treating acid-tinged water oozing out of the abandoned Wellington-Oro Mine in French Gulch.BioteQ, a Vancouver, B.C.-based company, was chosen in June as the preferred technology provider for the cleanup and started setting up operations at the Wellington-Oro site this past weekend.The pilot treatment plant will only be in operation for a few weeks, but if the test results meet expectations, construction of a permanent $1.2 million treatment facility could begin as soon as next spring, according to Brian Lorch, a resource specialist with the Summit County Open Space and Trails Department. Treatment of the mine drainage is part of the larger cleanup issues surrounding the entire B&B open space deal, to be jointly funded by the town of Breckenridge and Summit County. BioteQ has offered to pay the cost of construction and one year of operation up front, with no money down from local governments, to make sure the treatment meets objectives.We need to make sure this treatment meets our water quality desires, Lorch said. The goal is to meet the water quality standards set during years of talks between local, state and federal water quality officials.
The acid mine drainage from the Wellington-Oro contributes significant levels of cadmium and zinc to the waters of French Gulch and, in turn, the Blue River, impairing the aquatic ecosystem downstream. The goal of the treatment is to clean the water to where the Blue can support a self-sustaining brown trout fishery below its confluence with French Gulch. Treating the acid mine drainage at the site is also one element of the complex 1,800-acre open space deal for the old B&B mining lands in the vicinity of the Wellington-Oro.The current test run will also produce a small amount of solid waste, Lorch said, explaining that the sludge will be analyzed to make sure that it doesnt end up qualifying as hazardous waste so that it could be disposed of in a landfill.That may never be an issue, since the plan is to deliver the solid waste from the treatment project to a smelter, where the zinc and cadmium will be reprocessed for the manufacture of batteries, according to Mike Bratty, who is operating the pilot treatment facility about 10 hours per day. That not only resolves the waste disposal issue, but also adds some economic value to the operation, Bratty said.In the long run, the town of Breckenridge would take over day-to-day operations at an estimated annual cost of about $90,000.The chemistry of the treatment mimics the function of a natural wetlands system, Lorch said. Inside of a precipitation reactor, a sulfide compound is added to the water, essentially causing the dissolved zinc and cadmium to solidify.Its like taking dissolved sugar or salt in water and turning it back into a solid, Bratty said.One advantage to BioteQs method is that its selective in terms of which metals it treats, focusing on the zinc and cadmium. That reduces the amount of solid waste generated by the process, Lorch said.BioteQ operates several other similar treatment facilities on a much larger scale in Canada and the U.S., notably at Bisbee, Ariz., where the company has partnered with mining giant Phelps Dodge to recover copper from the drainage of a large low-grade stockpile.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or at email@example.com.
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