Chelan city council members and city staff spent a day in Holden Village on Sept. 20, 2016, touring the site of the Rio Tinto Holden Mine Remediation Project.
“We’ve been working with Rio Tinto the last four or so years,” said Chelan City Administrator Paul Schmidt. “[Rio Tinto] knew there was impact to the community, so they’ve been very good at explaining what this mine clean up was all about and how they’re approaching it.”
The Holden Mine, operated between 1937 and 1957 by Howe Sound Mining Company, was one of the largest producing copper mines in the United States, totaling approximately $1.5 billion in copper.
The clean-up is a government ordered project after the mine sat for about 50 years leaving approximately nine million tons of tailings and 250,000 tons of waste rock in the Railroad Creek Valley.
Read previous story published by GoLakeChelan.com on May 4, 2016 – Rio Tinto provides community update on Holden Mine clean-up
One of the main concerns for many locals in the Holden Village and Lake Chelan Valley was the leaching of polluting metals into Railroad Creek, and ultimately into Lake Chelan.
“It’s phenomenal on how they have taken their materials and equipment up to Holden and used all the available materials to put into place the means in which to address the pollution,” Schmidt said. “What was man-made pollution is now man-made anti-pollution.”
Rio Tinto worked to remediate any scarring and put in place a system to catch tailings and metals that would pollute the water supply, and run water through a large water treatment plant on site.
The treatment plant removes metals from acidic, polluted water with lime, raising the PH balance to proper Environmental Protection Agency standards. The capacity of the plant is 2,200 gallons a minute, and operates 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Five to six staff will continue to live on-site to run the water treatment plant, as the plant continues to run for the next decades to come.
“The whole trip was very enlightening on the effort and how beautiful it is up-lake, but also how humanity caused an issue and now solved that issue,” Schmidt said. “It was very gratifying in how Rio Tinto and their staff were so gracious in hosting and showing their work. They were quite proud of their effort and they should be.”
Nine city council members and staff made the trip, including Mayor Mike Cooney, Council Members Wendy Isenhart, Kelly Allen, Erin McCardle, Ray Dobbs, Paul Schmidt, City Clerk Peri Gallucci and two department heads.
Various members of the community and agencies also made the trip, with the attendees splitting up into three groups to tour the Holden Mine site, the old town of Winston, and the water treatment plant.
Chelan Mayor Mike Cooney said the trip gave him the opportunity to visit Holden Village for the first time, and see Rio Tinto’s work up close and personal.
“It just blew me away as far as the size and scope of the remediation,” Cooney said. “The most impressive thing I saw up there was the water plant that they built. Rio Tinto, the name is blended to the background and I think it should be brought to the forefront. They should be acknowledged for the amount of effort, time and money that they’re doing to put that whole place back to as close as God made it.”
Rio Tinto is spending an estimate of $500 million on the remediation project, $240 million of which Rio Tinto General Manager Dave Cline says supports the Chelan and Douglas county communities. Cline explained at an April community update that the project provided 1,875 regional jobs, and supports the local economy with direct, indirect and induced benefits.
City Council Member Wendy Isenhart said she wanted to see the progress from her first trip to the site two years ago.
“Then, the earth was scraped raw and cut with deep gashes where Copper Creek and Railroad Creek were being rerouted around an orange-stained heap of mine tailings the size of Entiat,” Isenhart said. “The sheer scale of the project was unlike anything I’d seen since Rock Reach Dam was under construction.”
Isenhart said it was “wonderful to see the grasses and young trees taking hold on the banks of the re-directed Railroad Creek.”
As city officials and staff resurfaced from the Holden Mine trip, Schmidt said a main takeaway for the Chelan community is a sense of relief.
“Not only relief, but a job well-done,” Schmidt said of Rio Tinto’s effort to remove pollutants from the water. “That’s being addressed, and it’s through the efforts of Rio Tinto, the EPA, the federal government, and the U.S. Forest Service who have all played a part in making sure that we’ll be keeping this lake pristine.”
As elected officials, Isenhart said it is an integral part of being a public official to recognize the positive things happening in a community.
“It’s important for Chelan’s elected officials to recognize the people and agencies and companies doing good, positive things in and for our communities,” Isenhart said. “When attention only goes to the mean ones who cheat and make us lose faith in each other, it makes people feel the whole society has taken a wrong turn. But here’s a company that has truly gone above and beyond—they have done a good job and turned a toxic situation around. It’s beautiful at Holden, and even more so now.”
(By Kaitlin Hetterscheidt)