Watershed Group and Mining Company Partner on Proposed Reclamation Project
by Samantha Wright
Feb 13, 2013 | 1866 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
VISIONARY – Caldera CEO John Bryan, pictured here at the Camp Bird Mine, has a vision for designing a model for how responsible mining can be conducted. This vision includes helping to address water pollution problems at historic abandoned mines in the area. (Photo by Samantha Wright)
VISIONARY – Caldera CEO John Bryan, pictured here at the Camp Bird Mine, has a vision for designing a model for how responsible mining can be conducted. This vision includes helping to address water pollution problems at historic abandoned mines in the area. (Photo by Samantha Wright)
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ATLAS MILL – The Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership proposes to conduct remediation efforts at the historic Atlas Mill near Yankee Boy Basin by removing tailings deposited in the river valley along Sneffels Creek. Caldera Mineral Resources has pledged $50,000 in cash and in-kind support toward this and other reclamation projects in the area. (Courtesy photo)
ATLAS MILL – The Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership proposes to conduct remediation efforts at the historic Atlas Mill near Yankee Boy Basin by removing tailings deposited in the river valley along Sneffels Creek. Caldera Mineral Resources has pledged $50,000 in cash and in-kind support toward this and other reclamation projects in the area. (Courtesy photo)
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OURAY – Caldera Mineral Resources LLC and the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership have formed an unlikely alliance with the goal of improving water quality at three abandoned mine sites near Ouray.

Caldera, the new operator of the Camp Bird Mine, has pledged $50,000 in cash and in-kind services in support of UWP’s efforts to win a Clean Water Act Section 319 Grant from Colorado’s Department of Health and Environment Nonpoint Source Program. Grant funds, totaling $163,000, would be used to conduct remediation work at the Atlas Mill near Yankee Boy Basin, the Vernon Mine in Gray Copper Gulch and the Michael Breen mine site on Engineer Pass.

The overall goal of the proposed project is to reduce nonpoint source (NPS) water pollution at the three sites. This kind of pollution results when streams and mine drainage interact with tailings and waste rock. NPS remediation generally consists of removing the tailings and waste rock, or re-routing stream flows so they do not pass through the polluting waste material.

UWP executive director Agnieszka Przeszlowska, who wrote the Section 319 grant, expects to find out sometime in late March whether her efforts were successful. The $420,000 project would take four years to execute, and would be paid for by a combination of Section 319 grant funds, Caldera’s cash match, in-kind services from Caldera and other entities, and additional federal contributions.

Caldera Mineral Resources, headed by CEO John Bryan, is now about six months into the process of revitalizing Ouray’s historic Camp Bird Mine, in a bid to bring it back into production. Currently, over 20 workers are employed at the site, conducting surface work in preparation for underground stabilization and exploration in the near future.

Bryan brings to the enterprise a deep sense of indebtedness to the environment, and a desire to right what he sees as the past wrongs of the hard rock miners of a century ago who left a legacy of acid mine drainage and heavy metal loading that continues to haunt watersheds across the West.

Thus, last fall, Bryan reached out to the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership to see if the group had any projects Caldera could get involved with. UWP had already set its sights on applying for the Section 319 grant, and welcomed Caldera’s contributions.

Bryan is excited about the potential collaboration. “Our goal is to build a portfolio of a number of reclamation projects,” he said. “We are actively looking for more opportunities such as this, and asking ‘Who’s got projects?’”

Bryan said his company’s vision is to participate in designing a model for how responsible mining can be conducted, and to have a major positive impact on the community and the environment. “We want to be net contributors,” he said.

If UWP wins the Section 319 grant, remediation work would take place at the three sites during the summers of 2014 and 2015. Before and after that, there would be continual water quality monitoring. Work in 2016 would also include the construction of interpretive signs as well as post water quality implementation. The project would wrap in April 2017.

“We needed a match, cash or in-kind, and that’s where Caldera has been really helpful,” Przeszlowska said.

Caldera’s in-kind support would mostly come in the form of site assessments, design and crew time, including expertise from Caldera’s water quality consultant Mike Thompson, whose company Reardon Steel, would execute water quality sampling throughout the ambitious project.  



PROJECT SCOPE AND PROSPECTS



According to Przeszlowska, work at the Atlas Mill would mainly involve the removal of tailings deposited from the historic mill in the riparian zone, stream bank stabilization, and potential re-engineering of the stream and revegetation.

“We would also install interpretive signs to highlight historical heritage of mining in the county,” Przeszlowska said. The Ouray County Historical Society would assist in this endeavor.

At the Vernon Mine in Gray Copper Gulch, remediation work would focus on two draining adits, rerouting drainage around waste rock to decrease interaction with the stream, and removing waste rock.  

The Michael Breen site, highly visible from Engineer Pass road, also has drainage from an adit that interacts with waste rock. “We would be doing some diversions of drainage, and also hope to remove as much of the waste rock as possible,” Przeszlowska said. “We also asked for in-kind support from the Ouray County Historical Society, and matching funds from Caldera to stabilize a load-out structure which is highly visible, to highlight mining heritage and work done at site.”

All three sites currently contribute water that doesn’t meet water quality standards for heavy metals into streams and rivers that are on the Clean Water Act’s list of impaired waters.

“Our priorities were to pick sites that contribute water to segments of the Uncompahgre River that are impaired, as well as sites that are accessible, and visible to the public,” Przeszlowska said.

Colorado’s Section 319 grant program is a partnership between CDPHE and the EPA. The state gets federal funding through the EPA and allocates it through grants to pay for projects that improve water quality. The grant program is arranged in a five-year rotation, prioritizing certain watershed basins in each grant cycle.

Przeszlowska is hopeful that UWP’s grant application will be successful. “Remediating waters impaired by heavy metals is a top priority statewide,” she noted. “And this year, the Gunnison Basin is a priority basin, which gives us a more competitive edge.”



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