Summit County buys mining claims near Montezuma to protect land — Summit Daily News

August 25, 2014

Snake River

Snake River


From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley/Joe Moylan) via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

During the silver mining boom of the 1870s, with a population of just 71, Sts. John was for a short time Summit County’s largest town.

The Summit County Open Space and Trails Department recently bought the abandoned townsite and nearby mining claims for $425,000 from the Tolen family, which owned land in the area since the 1950s.

The purchase, finalized July 28, conserves about 90 acres in the Snake River Basin above the town of Montezuma as public open space. The 18 separate parcels have significant wildlife value, according to the Colorado Natural Heritage Program, the U.S. Forest Service and the Snake River Master Plan.

“We are incredibly grateful to the Tolen family for working closely with the Summit County Open Space program to preserve the heritage of Sts. John and this exquisite landscape for the enjoyment of Summit County citizens and visitors alike,” said Brian Lorch, the program’s director. “This is one of the most important and significant acquisitions the program has made in recent years.”

The county acquired the properties using the Summit County Open Space fund, approved by voters in 2008. Breckenridge Ski Resort contributed $25,000 toward the purchase as part of a deal with environmental groups worried about the impacts of the recent Peak 6 development.

With the acquisition, the county will protect a large portion of the Snake River Basin backcountry and preserve a piece of Summit County history. Lorch said the Sts. John properties are highly valued for their intact historic resources, popularity for outdoor recreation and high-quality wetlands and wildlife habitat…

The Summit County Open Space program acquires lands to protect the scenic beauty, natural habitat, backcountry character and recreational opportunities in Summit County. Funded through property tax mill levies approved by Wvoters in 1993, 1999, 2003 and 2008, the program has protected more than 14,000 acres of open space.

More Blue River watershed coverage here.


Three-year cleanup targets Summit County’s Pennsylvania Mine — Summit Daily News

August 4, 2014
Pennsylvania Mine Upper Peru Creek Basin

Pennsylvania Mine Upper Peru Creek Basin

From the Summit Daily News via The Denver Post:

About 8 miles east of Keystone and a couple of miles south of the 14,000-foot-plus Grays and Torreys peaks, the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine is considered the worst mine in the state. The mine adds toxic heavy metal concentrations and acidifies water flowing into the Peru Creek, a tributary of the Snake River, which feeds Dillon Reservoir.

A three-year, $3 million cleanup project aims to stop that pollution. The project could serve as a model for future mine reclamation efforts around the state, said Paul Peronard, on-scene coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The collaborative effort is currently under budget and ahead of schedule, he said, even with the added cost of helping Summit County fix the part of Montezuma Road that washed away in early June.

“This is very much a huge partnership,” said Jeff Graves, senior project manager with the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

For decades, government agencies and other interested parties faced issues of liability and funding when trying to tackle the mine’s cleanup.

“It’s quite a conundrum,” said Lane Wyatt, a water-quality expert with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. “The problem is you don’t really have anybody to point your finger to in places like this to say, ‘You’re responsible. You got to go clean this up.’ “

This year the state is working to place one of two bulkheads, or giant concrete plugs, about 500 feet inside the mine. The bulkheads will block water from leaving through one large entry and stop water from flowing freely through the mine, Graves said.

More Blue River watershed coverage here.


Colorado: Spring flood cuts off road to Montezuma

June 5, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

High runoff taking a toll on roads

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Flood waters caused a major washout of Montezuma Road in Summit County, Colorado. Photo courtesy Summit County Road and Bridge.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Spring runoff is starting to take a toll on high country roads, with a major washout reported along Montezuma Road and minor flooding in other areas, including a partial washout on the Meadow Creek trailhead road in Frisco.

East of Keystone, Summit County officials reported a 45-washout of Montezuma Road, leaving Montezuma residents withouth vehicular access. According to the county, the road is washed out 15-feet deep near the Peru Creek trailhead.

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Peru Creek: EPA has been testing treatment and settlement of the acid mine drainage during August

August 25, 2013

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From the Summit Daily News (Breeana Laughlin):

Throughout August, [Martin McComb], the Environmental Protection Agency’s on-scene coordinator, and his team have been diverting the main flow of heavy-metal-laden water coming from the mine away from the poisonous tailings piles. Environmental protection workers also set up a treatment system that raises the PH of the water in an effort to force some of the metals to drop out of it into a settlement pond before heading downstream. “It’s all about reducing the amount of pollution that flows into the creek,” McComb said. “We are dealing comprehensively with what’s on top of the ground as well as what’s below the ground.”[...]

McComb’s EPA team is embarking on phase one of a six-phase cleanup project at the site. In addition to water treatment efforts, the group has spent the past month improving road conditions to allow dump trucks and other heavy machinery access to the site. The cleanup is expected to take three years and will involve numerous agencies, including the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety, Summit County, the U.S. Forest Service, the Blue River and Snake River watershed groups and Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. “It’s nice to see there are so many people involved in this project and in this watershed. I think it’s because it’s such a beautiful area, and near where so many people are living,” McComb said. “I hope we can make an impact — and think we already have.”

Cleanup efforts taken under the project plan will be phased over the next several years and will address threats from acidic discharge that is draining from the mine and tailings along with other mine waste found on the surface.

The bulk of the underground mine work will be conducted under the supervision of the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining & Safety. This summer, contractors under the supervision of senior project manager Jeff Graves are digging out a collapsed portion of earth that flooded the culvert in the mine’s portal F, and are working to gain easier access into the underground portions of the mine. “They are really knowledgeable about underground work and have a lot of experience,” McComb said. “For us, it’s a good way to partner with people who are specialized and really know what they’re doing.”

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.


Restoration: Pennsylvania Mine cleanup to start in earnest beginning this month

June 2, 2013

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From the Summit Daily News (Breeana Laughlin):

Pennsylvania Mine bleeds heavy metals, or acid mine drainage, into Peru Creek and the Snake River. The Snake flows into Dillon Reservoir — a major water source for the Front Range.

The mine operated from 1879 through the early 1900s. Like many mines in the area, it sits in a pristine alpine valley. Today the Peru Creek valley, eight miles to the east of Keystone, serves as a year-round destination for recreation.

The mine is one of the largest contributors of human-caused heavy metal in the Snake River Watershed. Contaminants include aluminum, cadmium, copper, iron, lead, manganese and zinc. Exposure to these metals can cause irreversible and lifelong health problems in humans and wildlife.

This summer, the EPA will prep infrastructure to allow heavy equipment into the mine site in hopes of cutting off pollution sources. Meanwhile, the Colorado Division of Reclamation and Mining Safety will continue underground investigations to pinpoint where the toxic metals are originating and decipher which techniques should be used to best clean up the site…

EPA on-scene coordinator Paul Peronard expects the mine cleanup project to take place over three years, and cost about $3 million. Progress will be made in “finite, bite-size chunks,” he said…

Workers drilled holes into the ground and used a borehole camera to inspect the inside of the mine. The state-of-the-art technology was combined with maps from the 1920s to create a blueprint of the mine site…

Stakeholders then came up with a portal rehabilitation project. They dug and cut their way into the mine and installed very large culverts into two mine portals. The work required climbing through “hobbit holes” and dealing with 2 feet of muck, but it allowed researchers to get data about the amount of flow and level of contaminants coming through the F and C portals of the mine — where the bulk of the cleanup work will be done. The water found was “pretty nasty stuff.” The substance was a rusty orange color ­— very similar to the hue of the excavators on site. Geologists and engineers used dye to track water flows, created settlement ponds and revegetated disturbed areas…

In June, workers will prepare the mine site and stabilize the portals so more detailed underground investigations can be made. Geological engineer Graves’ plan is to install inner and outer bulkheads at the mine. The problem workers have with sealing waterways is a lack of rock and other landmass on top of the mine to contain underground water pressure, he said…

In addition to installing bulkheads in 2014 and 2015, stakeholders plan to cap waste and tailing piles in place with topsoil and vegetation to prevent erosion and contaminants from leaching. Any significant surface water pathways discovered during the underground investigations will also be sealed.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Nearly a century after miners finished digging millions of dollars worth of silver, lead and zinc out of the Pennsylvania Mine, heavy machinery will once again rumble through the high alpine Peru Creek Valley. But instead of burrowing deep into the ground to find precious metals, the workers this time will be trying to clean up the big mess left behind when the mine was abandoned. For decades, water coursing through the mine shafts has been dissolving minerals, resulting in acid mine drainage that pollutes Peru Creek and the Snake River. Concentrations of some metals, especially zinc, are high enough to kill trout…

The cleanup is a partnership between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety, the U.S. Forest Service, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and Summit County. For more information about the project please visit: http://www.snakerivertaskforce.org.

More Snake River Watershed coverage here and here.


Snake River: USGS — Warmer Temperatures Likely Driving Increase of Metal Concentrations in Rocky Mountain Watershed

September 13, 2012

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Here’s the release the United States Geological Survey (Heidi Koontz/Jim Scott):

Warmer air temperatures since the 1980s may explain significant increases in zinc and other metal concentrations of ecological concern in a Rocky Mountain watershed, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, led by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Rising concentrations of zinc and other metals in the upper Snake River just west of the Continental Divide near Keystone, Colo., may be the result of falling water tables, melting permafrost, and accelerating mineral weathering rates, all driven by warmer air temperatures in the watershed. Researchers observed a fourfold increase in dissolved zinc over the last 30 years during the month of September.

“This study provides another fascinating, and troubling, example of a cascading impact from climate warming as the rate of temperature-dependent chemical reactions accelerate in the environment, leaching metals into streams,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “The same concentration of metals in the mountains that drew prospectors to the Rockies more than a century ago are now the source of toxic trace elements that are harming the environment as the planet warms.”

Increases in metals were seen in other months as well, with lesser increases seen during the high-flow snowmelt period. During the study period, local mean annual and mean summer air temperatures increased at a rate of 0.2-1.2 degrees Celsius per decade.

Generally, high concentrations of dissolved metals in the upper Snake River watershed are the result of acid rock drainage, or ARD, formed by natural weathering of pyrite and other metal-rich sulfide minerals in the bedrock. Weathering of pyrite forms sulfuric acid through a series of chemical reactions, and mobilizes metals like zinc from minerals in the rock and carries these metals into streams.

Increased sulfate and calcium concentrations observed over the study period lend weight to the hypothesis that the increased zinc concentrations are due to acceleration of pyrite weathering. The potential for comparable increases in metals in similar Western watersheds is a concern because of impacts on water resources, fisheries and stream ecosystems. Trout populations in the lower Snake River, for example, appear to be limited by the metal concentrations in the water, said USGS scientist Andrew Todd, lead researcher on the project.

“Acid rock drainage is a significant water quality problem facing much of the Western United States,” Todd said. “It is now clear that we need to better understand the relationship between climate and ARD as we consider the management of these watersheds moving forward.”

In cases where ARD is linked directly with past and present mining activities it is called acid mine drainage, or AMD. Another Snake River tributary, Peru Creek, is largely devoid of life due to AMD generated from the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine and smaller mines upstream, and has become a target for potential remediation efforts.

The Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety, in conjunction with other local, state and federal partners, is conducting underground exploration work at the mine to investigate the sources of heavy metals-laden water draining from the adit. The study conducted by Todd and colleagues has implications in such efforts because it suggests that establishing attainable clean-up objectives could be difficult if natural background metal concentrations are a “moving target.”

Collaborators include USGS, CU Boulder and the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR). The data analyzed for the study came from INSTAAR, the USGS and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

From the Summit Daily News (Paige Blankenbuehler):

Rising concentrations of zinc and other metals in the upper Snake River west of the Continental Divide near Keystone may be the result of falling water tables, melting permafrost and accelerating mineral- weathering rates — all driven by warmer air temperatures in the watershed…

High concentrations of dissolved metals in the upper Snake River watershed are the result of acid rock drainage, according to the research. The drainage is a result from past and present mining activities.

More water pollution coverage here.


Peru Creek basin: Summer restoration work will include opening the Pennsylvania mine for a look-see

May 27, 2012

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

One part of the planned work involves moving some of the waste rock from the mine away from running water, a technique that has proven successful in other remediation projects. A collaborative task force including local, state and federal stakeholders have been grappling with the pollution for years, as cost estimates for a cleanup have soared.

This summer, the various parties collaborating on the cleanup will also try to enter the old mine itself to try and figure how water moves through the shafts and tunnels. That may help the experts figure out if they can permanently block the water coming out of the mine with a bulkhead, according to Lane Wyatt, a water expert with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. “That’s the big thing, is opening up the Penn Mine … that’s kind of exciting, going in see what’s going on in there. That might help us develop some remedial options based on more than just guessing,” Wyatt said.
Other potential remediation options include a water treatment facility, or perhaps even trying to block or divert water before it gets into the mine.

“The Forest Service has been involved in looking for ways to clean up the Penn Mine for many years. This is a great step forward,” said acting Dillon District Ranger Peech Keller.

More Snake River watershed coverage here and here.


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