BLM plans summer cleanup at Red Devil Mine

by Ben Matheson on December 18, 2013

The process of cleaning up the Red Devil mine will take years as they work under the federal CERLA process. But the agency is planning to move dirt this summer and prevent more tailings and their toxic metals from entering the Kuskokwim River.

It will take many years and many more studies to complete the cleanup of the Red Devil site. But the law does have a mechanism that allows work to move ahead before that comprehensive fix happens. This is called early action. Mike McCrum is the Red Devil Project Manager. He says they have learned enough earlier studies to know that large tailings piles have high concentrations of mercury, arsenic, and antimony.

“Basically this material is moving off the mine site and into the river. That’s the kind of thing, we think it warrants some initial action and we really don’t think we should wait. Spreading that material to other places is not something we want to have happen,” said McCrum.

The BLM is working with its contractor on an expedited schedule to make plans for the 2014 work season. They are building an analysis that includes past investigations and a look at
four options with varying levels of intrusion. The first is no action. The 2nd involves some minimal excavation in the Red devil creek to straighten it and flatten the gradient. They would then lay down what’s called concrete cloth.

“The idea would be to line the creek in the place where the tailings are most prevalent and then you secure that lined material to the ground and overlap it so there are no spaces between it. And that prevents the water flowing through Red Devil creek from coming into contact with those tailing and that in turn would prevent the stream from moving those sediments into to the Kuskokwim river,” said McCrum.

The third alternative would actually divert a portion of the creek to direct the flow upstream of the mine to prevent the water from touching the tailings. The fourth and most aggressive options includes a significant realignment of creek near the tailings and extensive grading.

“And then we would put a thing we call a sediment trap downstream of that which would act as a mechanism for trapping any tailings or any sand sized or gravel sized particles that would travel downstream from that realigned creek section, in that way we would prevent any from migrating into the river,” said McCrum.

The BLM will travel to communities in the spring, and use residents’ input to make final decision. They will not have documents online before the summer.

The Red Devil mercury mine operated from 1933 to 1971. By the 80s it was considered abandoned and the government began the long process of cleaning up. Studies have found buildup of metals in fish nearby. The State has issued a warning to residents not to collect subsistence foods nearby. They also warned for pregnant women and young children to avoid large-sized pike and lush, those are predators that can accumulate mercury over many years.

BLM is working on the comprehensive cleanup plan at the same time. t.

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