Hard rock mining programs lauded for national environmental protection achievement

The state of Montana’s Abandoned Mine Land Program will be recognized for two national awards at the National Association of Abandoned Mine Lands annual conference in Bozeman on Monday, Sept. 26. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and the National Association of Abandoned Mine Land Programs will recognize Montana for the nation’s highest achievements in protecting public safety and the environment through innovative abandoned mine clean up practices. The awards will be presented for the Sand Coulee Water System Restoration Project near Great Falls and the McLaren Tailings Reclamation Project in Cooke City.

 “These two awards exemplify state government’s expertise and commitment to protecting Montana’s clean water and restoring our natural resources,” said Montana Department of Environmental Quality Director Tom Livers.

The Sand Coulee Water System Restoration Project mitigated persistent water shortages and drinking water contamination in a former coal mining community located near Great Falls. The McLaren Tailings Reclamation Project in Cooke City received the award for chemical contamination remediation.

“The winners of these awards are being recognized as the standard model for responsible abandoned mine reclamation in the country,” said NAAMLP President Chuck Williams. “The screening criteria for the awards are quite comprehensive. We look for modern innovative technology used, the effectiveness of the remediation, and the ability of the operator to acquire different streams of funding to get the job done.”


Montana will host the 38th NAAMLP Conference

The Montana Abandoned Mine Lands program is hosting this year’s conference. The 38th Annual NAAMLP Conference will be held at the Grantree Inn and Holiday Inn in Bozeman, Sept. 25 through 28. The last time the conference was held in Montana was in 2006.

“We expect more than 300 reclamation professionals from all over the United Stated to attend the conference,” said AML program Manager Autumn Coleman.

The conference will consist of a welcome reception on Sunday, Sept. 25; Plenary and technical sessions followed by the annual awards banquet on Sept. 26; tours to mining sites and points of interest in Montana on Sept. 27, followed by a reception at the Museum of the Rockies. Wednesday Sept. 28 will conclude the conference with a half-day of technical sessions.

Governor Steve Bullock will speak at the Awards Banquet Monday evening.

Speakers at the Plenary session, Sept. 26, include:

· Video remarks from the Montana Congressional delegation

· Assistant Secretary of the Interior Janice Schneider

· Director of the Office of Surface Mining Joseph Pizarchik

· Chairman Darrin Old Coyote of the Crow Tribe

For more information, and to sign up to attend the conference, please visit: http://naamlp2016.com/


Sand Coulee Water System Restoration Project

From the late 1880s through the 1940s, Sand Coulee mines supplied coal to the Great Northern Railway.  Acid mine drainage discharging from the mines contaminated streams and groundwater, and the mines dewatered the sandstone aquifer used by the community. Coal wastes were used as backfill materials for the water distribution piping. The piping was thin-walled plastic pipe and suffered a recurring pattern of breaks. Since the 1950s the community endured recurring water shortages and coal wastes entering their potable water.

The restoration project included installation of an 800-foot water supply well and water rights permitting for the community. The new system included over 8,900 feet of new water main pipe, 22 fire hydrants, construction of a new 150,000-gallon storage tank, and construction of a new well house building with modern controls. The new water system incorporated Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition and internet controls offering innovative technology allowing the District to monitor well water levels, the tank level, and pumping data. The water shortages and the impacts from coal wastes have been alleviated.

Prior to the AML reclamation project, the community was stuck in position with few viable options to solve their water system problems. The community did not have economic or technical resources to locate, develop, and obtain legal rights for a new source of potable water. This project was successful in addressing this need and enhancing the community of Sand Coulee.


McLaren Tailings project

The McLaren Tailings project, which removed 250,000 cubic yards of metal contaminated mine waste from Soda Butte Creek near Yellowstone National Park, was particularly difficult due to its site location with an elevation of 7,600 feet in an isolated alpine area characterized by large winter snow accumulations, limited access, unreliable power, rapid spring runoff, highly variable weather during the summer construction season and abundant grizzly bears. 

The summer construction season consisted of approximately 100 calendar days with the end coinciding with the first snowfalls in October. No commercial hauling is permitted through the Yellowstone National Park, so all construction equipment and materials were delivered through Dead Indian Pass, an 8,000-foot mountain pass in Wyoming. The completion of the project put a stop to acidic discharges from old gold and copper mines contaminating Soda Butte Creek, the only metals impaired stream entering Yellowstone National Park.


Background on AML

Mining for hard rock minerals such as gold, silver, platinum, lead, copper, and zinc, in addition to industrial minerals such as uranium, clays, limestone, and borates is an essential piece of U.S. infrastructure. Excavating the land to extract these commodities, while vital, can negatively impact the environment. Prior to the adoption of state and federal laws requiring responsible reclamation of these sites, the sites were often abandoned upon completion.

Today, thousands of dangerous health, safety, and environmental problems exist as the result of abandoned mine lands. Eliminating these problems through remediation or reclamation requires specialized skills, innovative thinking, and dedication.

The award program aims to recognize exemplary projects for remediation at legacy abandoned hard rock mines in the United States in two categories: 1. Remediation of Contamination Impacting the Environment or Human Health; and 2. Remediation of Physical Safety Hazards.

To be considered for an award, state, tribal, and federal agencies, or non-profit organizations that address hazards from abandoned mine lands must submit nominations by June 10 each year.



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