The Red Devil Mine is located on the Kuskokwim near the Red Devil Creek between Crooked Creek and Sleetmute. Mining started in the 1930's, picked up steam in the 50's and 60's but has not operated since the 1970's. The problem is that there's mercury, arsenic, and antimony in the soils left behind by the mining, and the contamination is being released by erosion.
The Bureau of Land Management is holding a meeting in June to educate people about the old mine and listen to the public's suggestions on what should be done to clean it up.
Mike McCrum is the Project Manager on the cleanup plan for the project. He will be making a presentation on the cleanup process set forth by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, or CERCLA. They start by determining if there's contamination on the site, what the levels are, and ways to clean it up.
Right now there are four different alternatives being considered for the Red Devil Mine.
One is to do nothing. The second fences off and monitors the site. The third moves the contaminated soils to a repository on the site, but at a higher elevation, further away from streams and the river.
The final alternative is remove all contaminated material to a hazardous waste site in Oregon.
“And we would have to take it that far because there is no facility permitted for that kind of material here in Alaska,” McCrum said.
The river is an important source for subsistence, and contamination from the mine could cause serious potential effects to the aquatic ecosystem.
“As it happens, this particular mine has a lot of mercury associated with it,” McCrum said. “And I believe, at this stage of the game, everybody is pretty aware of that mercury tends to bioaccumulate.”
Which means that smaller fish, which are more exposed to the mine site, are eaten by larger fish, which causes the mercury to accumulate higher and higher up the food chain.
Luckily it looks like it will not affect salmon. Fish believed to be affected in this area are lush and pike, said McCrum.
The public forum on the Red Devil mine is scheduled for June 7 at the ONC Multi-purpose Building, at 1 p.m., in Bethel.