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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Holden Mine cleanup/remediation update

Holden Mine Update, June 2010.
While the NCCC focuses efforts on moving the American Alps Legacy Project forward, important events and projects continue apace across the greater North Cascades. One of the most important projects underway right now is the cleanup and remediation of the Holden Mine site on Railroad Creek, a major tributary of Lake Chelan, draining the highest non-volcanic peak in all the Cascades.
Like the Azurite Mine/Gold Hill mine cleanup plan within the American Alps area, the Holden cleanup plan is many years in the making--choices made and plans drawn now will impact the health of a key North Cascades drainage for decades, even centuries to come. A recent article which appeared in the Lake Chelan Mirror* calls to mind some disturbing images, and more importantly, some disturbing news. Anyone who has visited Lucerne on Lake Chelan during low pool times (winter), or hiked around Holden has seen the sickening orange/red/yellow multi-hued mining waste that has poisoned Railroad Creek and stained the water course. The article speaks of plumes of this mining poison plainly visible as it enters Lake Chelan during high flows of Railroad Creek. More distressing is the impact on all living things in the area: the ecosystem is significantly damaged. The 1997 Department of Ecology report on the impacts of Holden Mine on Railroad Creek is heartbreaking for anyone who has wandered a wild mountain stream, especially in the North Cascades:

"Results show the Holden site is having a devastating effect on the water quality and aquatic life of Railroad Creek." Since the 1960s, when scientific measurements began above and below the mine on Railroad Creek, and to this day, the numbers of invertebrates drops notably from more than 3,000 above the mine to 50 below and 361 where the creek meets the lake. Fish are few and far between in the more than TEN MILES of Railroad Creek between the mine and Lake Chelan. Elevated levels of zinc, copper and iron. Mine drainage has high concentrations of iron, manganese, copper, zinc and aluminum, as well as lead and other metals. Downstream from Holden, those concentrations increased from a factor of three to ten. The water is so contaminated, it doesn't meet state drinking water regulations.
It is believed that it will be more than two hundred years, and likely more than three hundred years before heavy metals stop leaching in to the drainage. So a proper cleanup now is important…
As this edition of TWC goes to press, there are public meetings being held in Holden, Chelan, Seattle and Wenatchee to get comments from the public on the preferred cleanup plan, so called “Alternative 14”. Alt 14 is a compromise between The US Forest Service, the mining companies (Rio Tinto and Intalco) and Holden Village. Surprisingly, the Holden Village Board of Directors took a most disappointing position opposing the best clean up option (Alt 11, favored by the USFS), and instead favored a more expedient, less thorough clean up job.
Make your voice heard on which alternative you prefer. More importantly, inform yourself about issues happening in our North Cascades. The USFS has put forth preliminary alternatives for cleanup of the Azurite Mine in the American Alps area on the headwaters of the Skagit River (Canyon Creek/Granite Creek). Comment on that too, as every note, email or phone call matters to the fate of a healthy, vibrant North Cascades.
*Please see the Lake Chelan Mirror website for their recent article.

For background, see "The Holden Mine Cleanup Problem" on p. 4 of the Spring '09 issue of The Wild Cascades [PDF]


Phil said...

Personally I'm not surprised at Holden Village's position. By agreeing to the lower-cost compromise, they get a guarantee that their guest services operation will not be impacted more than 2 summers in a row, and even some infrastructure upgrades to sweeten the deal. So who looks-out for the best interests of the environment itself? YOU and I as citizens are left to do that, it appears. We should challenge the assumption that Alt 14 is as good as Alt 11. Also I cringe at the idea of re-routing Railroad Creek because the proposed new course goes right through a grove of old trees. It really shouldn't be up to just the mining company, fed agencies and Holden Village to negotiate this. We need to make our voices heard at the public hearings!

Joan Neslund said...

I find the Lake Chelan Mirror article to be misleading. In reality, the remediation has already begun with contract work gathering prelim data. Holden's site states 2013 for the big construction. ( The reality is that the final project has not even come up for public review yet.

The State of WA Dept of Ecology states that water needs to be clean from the point of origin on down. The actually ppm at the lake is negligible. The tailings are coating the rock south of the mine site so no aquatic plants can grow to sustain fish. Stopping the leaching of tailings will enable growth again.

The moving of Railroad Creek will be back to its historic bed. The mine shifted it northward to make room for the tailings.

Phil said...

The tailings pushed the creek north during the mining era. If the creek were to return toward its original course (southward) the tailings would have to be moved, and nobody's proposing that. No, the map of Alt 13 I got at Holden shows the re-routed creek located the only place it could go, *further north* of its current channel, cut into a forested area. The current creek bed then becomes a run-off collector to a water-treatement facility.

I agree the article is confusing, but we thought we should refer readers to it. I just added a link to my article in the N3C journal last year.

Fact is, this mess will never be even close to "cleaned-up" and will stand for eternity as a symbol of extractive folly in pristine wilderness. Hopefully, like those tarballs landing on Florida beaches, some folks will see it as a case in point and resolve "never again."