The Bureau of Land Manage is planning do a quick field season next summer at the Red Devil mine to stop the large tailings piles from eroding into Red Devil Creek and bringing more metals into the Kuskokwim river. But that doesn’t solve the problem. There are over 250 thousand cubic yards of contaminated ground at the site and the agency is tasked with figuring out how to clean it up.
Red Devil Creek runs right past the abandoned mine site, where leeched metals like mercury, arsenic, and antimony enter the water system and make their way towards the Kuskokwim. Earlier projects have plugged old mining shafts and removed barrels of chemicals, but the biggest legacy of 40 years of mercury mining is the rocks. Those continue to leech chemical into the watershed. Mike McCrum is the Red Devil Project Manager.
“We’re looking at the groundwater, we’re looking at sediments in the creek, and we’re looking at the large piles of tailings on site that were left by the mining operation. And we’re looking at those three media in different way because they each present their own set of problems,” said McCrum.
The four site wide alternatives address each of those areas of concern. The first option is to take no action. The second would involve putting an 8 foot high fence around the site to keep people and wildlife out. The third actually addresses the tailings and moves them to higher ground in an on-site repository.
“Which is sort of like a landfill, we’d prepare the ground, put them all in one place we would cover them with some sort of material that would help prevent snowmelt and rainfall from infiltrating into the pile and leaching metals,”said McCrum.
The 4th and most extensive option involves digging up the tailings and shipping all of the material to the Lower 48 for disposal in a special facility.
The BLM hopes to have the feasibility study done by next summer. It’s currently making the rounds in a multi agency in depth analysis.
“These are documents that BLM is developing with its contractor, but then it’s extensively reviewed by the EPA, by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources…,” said McCrum.
The BLM would then turn the studies into a proposed plan and bring it out for public input before the final record of decision and work could go ahead. That could still be a number of years. A link to the project website is here.