Forest Service Starts Cleanup in Monte Cristo Mining Area

Release Date: Sep 28, 2012  

Photo by Joe Gibbens

The Forest Service, in consultation with Washington Department of Ecology, will start cleanup work at the Monte Cristo Mining Area (MCMA) on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest this fall.  The cleanup is necessary to address threats to human health, the environment and violations of the Clean Water Act resulting from historic mining operations at Monte Cristo.

“The Removal Action, conducted under Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), will address hazardous substances released from abandoned mine facilities and wastes at Monte Cristo that present substantial risk to human health and the environment,” said Jennifer Eberlien, forest supervisor.  

Intensive investigation at the MCMA Site began in 2005. The Forest Service completed an Engineering Evaluation/Cost Analysis (EE/CA) in 2010.  The EE/CA evaluated possible removal alternatives and recommended initial action that would minimize human and ecological exposure to easily accessible hazardous mine wastes and soils containing very high concentrations of arsenic, antimony and lead as well as a laundry-list of other metals.  The Forest Service will remove highly contaminated waste rock, ore, mill tailings and soil at the ore concentrator site and at several mines and related facilities and consolidate that material in a sealed repository built in a stable location on-site.  The Forest Service will close a number of dangerous underground mine openings, including adits and shafts, using bat-friendly exclosures.  The Forest Service evaluated and provided written responses to public comments addressing the EE/CA.  A Removal Action Memorandum (RAM) details the Removal decision.  The responses to comments and the RAM are available on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest website.

“The first step will be to reestablish equipment access to the old mining district where the bridge and road washouts and landslide have made vehicle access to the site impossible since 2005,” said Joe Gibbens, project on-scene coordinator.  Tree-felling along the access route will commence in early October, 2012.  Work in the spring of 2013 will focus on development of the site access route to the townsite.  This will cause short-term closures of the Old Monte Cristo Townsite Trail. Closure of this trail will block access to the Glacier Basin Trail 719  and the Poodle Dog Pass Trail 708, which leads to Silver and Twin Lakes. The Weden Creek (Gothic Basin) Trail  724 will not be affected by this closure. For trail closure information check the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest road and trail conditions.

Actual removal work is scheduled to begin in 2013 and extend into 2014.  During this time the Forest Service will close the Monte Cristo area for extended periods to protect public health and safety. 

Further investigation at MCMA will continue as the removal is ongoing.  “Ecology is initiating a Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study of the area to explore options for additional cleanup,” said Jason Shira, Washington Department of Ecology.  That work will consider methods for treating mine water draining from the Mystery and Justice Mines, take a closer look at contaminated sediment in South Fork Sauk River and Monte Cristo Lake, and examine other mines in the district.  Please see Ecology’s fact sheet for background and contact information on this area.

Joseph Pearsall is credited with the discovery of the Monte Cristo Mining District in 1889.   Gold, silver, lead, zinc and copper were taken from the mines beginning in 1893 after railway access and the concentrator were built.  ASARCO purchased the Monte Cristo mines and the Everett smelter in 1903, but closed the mines shortly thereafter.  ASARCO’s involvement resulted in the identification of ASARCO as a Potentially Responsible Party under CERCLA.  The Forest Service and Washington Department of Ecology filed claims in the bankruptcy proceedings against ASARCO and ultimately received approximately $5,500,000 each, which is expected to pay most cleanup costs. 

More information about the clean-up activities and project documents are available at the Darrington Ranger District Office of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in Darrington, Wash.  The Removal Action Memorandum, EE/CA, updates and other documents of the Administrative Record are online.  For additional information about the MCMA site clean-up project, contact the Forest Service on-scene coordinator Joseph Gibbens at 360.956.2352 or from the Washington Department of Ecology, Mary Monahan at 509.454.7840 and Jason Shira at 509.454.7834.