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BLM removes mine waste leaching into Animas River

About 2,500 cubic yards of contaminated material relocated
This picture was taken in mid-October after work at Lewis Lake Tailings Pond to remove tailings leaching heavy metals into the Animas River. The Bureau of Land Management said avalanche-downed timber has been placed throughout the removal site for soil stabilization and habitat cover. The black erosion control fence will remain in place until next summer.

The Bureau of Land Management has cleaned up mine tailings north of Silverton that were leaching heavy metals into the Animas River.

Brant Porter, a BLM spokesman, said the contaminated mine waste in Lewis Lake Tailings Pond was near the West Fork of the Upper Animas River in California Gulch, northwest of the Animas Forks ghost town.

In late September, a BLM-contracted crew started excavating and hauling the contaminated tailings away from the river to an isolated area where the waste was surrounded with liner to prevent further leaching.

Porter said crews then restored the area next to the river where the tailings previously were located. He said the work took about three weeks to complete.

The tailings had been on the BLM land for decades, but no responsible party was identified.

This picture was taken in September before the Bureau of Land Management began work on Lake Lewis Tailings Pond. The pond dried most years in late spring and summer. The area devoid of vegetation reaches from the dry pond to the West Fork of the Animas River.

In all, about 2,500 cubic yards of contaminated soil was removed, but the contractor has not yet charged the BLM.

“In addition to getting the contaminated material out of the watershed and reducing risk to the river, BLM’s restoration efforts at the site used avalanche-downed timber to stabilize the remaining soil, and the area was seeded with native seed, which will help the scar repair over time and prevent invasive (species) from taking advantage of the disturbance,” Porter said.

Peter Butler, a founder of the defunct Animas River Stakeholders Group, said the Lewis Lake Tailings Pond wasn’t on the group’s list of main contributors of heavy metals into the Animas River, but it was part of the larger Bagley Tunnel mine site, which is on the list.

“We didn’t specify Lewis Lake, but it’s part of same complex,” he said. “So I don’t know if (the Lewis Lake Tailings Pond) is a big contributor, but I think it was a real easy thing to get at,” he said.

Similarly, the Lewis Lake Tailings Pond is not part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site, which seeks to address 48 or so mining-related sites around Silverton blamed for degrading water quality in the Animas River.

Katherine Jenkins, a spokeswoman for EPA, said the agency “continues to prioritize coordination with BLM throughout the Bonita Peak Mining District Site.

“We are working with BLM to ensure the work completed at the Lewis Lake tailings is consistent with the long-term cleanup strategies at the Frisco/Bagley Tunnel source area,” she said. “EPA will investigate possible connections between Frisco/Bagley Tunnel and the Lewis Lake tailings through the ongoing remedial investigation process.”

Porter said the site will be monitored, and additional actions might be taken to manage or reduce risk to the watershed if necessary.

The BLM also did some work at the Elk Creek Tunnel up Cement Creek, building an “iron terrace,” which Porter said works similar to a wetland in how it removes iron from the adit drainage through natural processes.

“This summer’s work entailed building the framework for the terrace,” he said. “That process will be ongoing, and BLM will monitor the site in the coming years to make sure that the plan is working to minimize risk to the watershed.”


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