TSF Science Director reports from Alaska Reclamation Workshop

23 June 2011, NEVADA CITY – The Sierra Fund Science Director Dr. Carrie Monohan attended the four-day Northern Latitudes Mining Reclamation Workshop in Fairbanks Alaska last month to learn new and innovative ways of remediating abandoned mines from regional experts who came to the conference from far and wide, including researchers from Sweden and the Yukon.

“Mine reclamation is not rocket science, but we don’t want to re-invent the wheel either. We want to have all the possibilities on the table when trying to decide what to do to remediate the abandoned mines in the Sierra,” said Dr. Monohan.

The simple concepts of landform engineering; floatation circuits for lead, copper and zinc; cover designs; and backfilling mine shafts with waste rock mixed with cement were just a few of the approaches that were discussed at the conference.

Perhaps the most useful assessment tool was the hand-held GIS unit with specialized dropdown menus designed to record and map the typical chemical and physical hazards encountered at abandoned mine sites. Widespread use of this device and specialized programming would enable standardization of data collection among federal and state agencies, could be used to populate AML databases and facilitate analysis, inventory and prioritization efforts.

Another benefit to attending the workshop was meeting the people who are leaders in the field and learning new approaches to common problems. For example, the Crested Butte Land Trust in Colorado formed an LLC in order to remediate the Peanut Mine. The Land Trust worked closely with the Colorado Division of Reclamation and Mining Division and Montana Department of Environmental Quality AML program. Encouraging Land Trusts to remediate abandoned mines on property that they have acquired has been a priority issue for The Sierra Fund.

Perhaps the most impressive AML cleanup project was the Snowshoes Mine in Libby, Montana where 65,000 cubic yards of mill tailings in the Snowshoes Creek floodplain were removed through excavation and the creek and its floodplain were restored. It is hard to imagine a cleanup that size being done here in the Sierra, but it is good to know that it is possible if it were warranted.