Cooke City

Montana To Clean Up Tailings Site in Cooke City; Should Help Yellowstone Waters

It’s a double win: besides improving water quality in Yellowstone National Park, the state will be able to capitalize on the current high price of gold to recoup some of the reclamation costs, estimated to be at $24 million.

The 30-acre McLaren Tailings Site is located at the former McLaren Mine Mill near Cooke City in Park County. Mine waste rock and tailings contaminate Soda Butte Creek that runs through the site and eventually through the park, about five miles downstream. Over the next six years, the DEQ Abandoned Mine Section will remove approximately 230,000 cubic yards, or one-half million tons, of contaminated mine waste. Materials will be placed in a repository built on a property adjoining the site. A portion of the tailings will be transported to Golden Sunlight Mine in Whitehall for processing to recover gold that remains in the tailings. The tailings will be disposed in its permitted, synthetically lined storage facility.

Contaminants from Cooke City has always been an issue for Yellowstone National Park. Mining was an important economic engine for the city in the past, but recent efforts to bring back large-scale mining were thwarted by federal officials; most recently the U.S. government worked out a land swap to preserve the New World Mining District.

The state estimates there could be $25 to $30 million worth of gold in the tailings. The DEQ is contracting with Knife River Corporation for excavation and transportation, and with Barrick Gold Corporation, owners of Golden Sunlight Mine, for processing. The project should employ about 50 people.

“We expect this plan to be as good as gold,” said DEQ Director Richard Opper. “We’re recycling the gold left behind in tailings from old milling done 80 years ago. This is another example of Governor Schweitzer’s restoration economy and its a demonstration of Montana ingenuity at its best.”

The McLaren Tailings Site sends acid mine drainage into Soda Butte Creek. In addition, earthquakes or high water flows could cause the tailings dam to fail, which would deposit contaminated material along the creek and into the park. Funding for the project is provided through a grant from the Federal Office of Surface Mining Control, Reclamation and Enforcement.

The DEQ will conduct an informational meeting about the project at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, June 8, 2010, at the Fire Hall, 102 West Main Street, in Cooke City. Topics include project objectives, the schedule of work planned for this summer and fall, and site reclamation plans for subsequent years. The public is encouraged to attend and will have an opportunity to ask questions.

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