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The California BLM Abandoned Mine Lands Team



Boston Placer Mine Sluice Tunnel Remediation Project, Red Dog, California.

Project Point of Contact

John Key, State Program Lead for Hazardous
Materials/Abandoned Mine Lands/Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration
Bureau of Land Management, Sacramento, CA
Phone: 916-978-4384
Email: John_Key@ca.blm.gov

Summary

The Boston Hydraulic Gold Mine Sluice Tunnel Remediation Project was the first successful pilot mercury removal/recovery/recycling project undertaken in California. The Abandoned Mine Lands Team used innovative project remediation concepts during the Engineering Evaluation/Cost Analysis phase of the project and worked with team members to successfully implement and execute technological innovations and novel remediation solutions. The drain "sluice" tunnel discharged water and sediment onto adjoining U.S. Forest Service administered lands bordering Greenhorn Creek. Water and sediment sample results indicated high mercury contamination levels both in the 400-foot-long sluice tunnel and in the wetlands/reservoir area, which were created by a blockage at the inlet of the tunnel. By recovering and recycling the mercury, BLM preserved approximately one billion gallons of potential drinking water. There was widespread support from interagency Federal partners (U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), State Partners (California Department of Conservation Abandoned Mine Land Unit, California State Water Control Board, Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, and California Department of Fish and Game), Local Partners (Nevada County Department of Environmental Health, and Nevada County Resource Conservation District), and numerous private landowner watershed stakeholders.

Detailed Description

Need and Implementation:

This site was BLM California's highest priority abandoned mine land (AML) site slated for cleanup in 2005. The 200-foot long sluice box tunnel contained high concentrations of elemental and methyl mercury in the tunnel sediments.

Innovation:

This site presented an excellent location for a pilot remediation mercury recovery cleanup project. The Boston Sluice Tunnel had one the highest mercury levels in water, sediment, and biota of all of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sites in the Bear River Watershed. By removing the mercury from mercury contaminated sediments using innovative methods, BLM was able to remove contaminated sediments from within the sluice tunnel and free mercury from the ecosystem. This action reduced the site as a pollution "point source" and its subsequent transport of mercury and methyl mercury into the watershed.

Partnering and Cooperative Conservation:

The California State Water Board and other regulatory agencies required that BLM significant reduce mercury loading from its managed lands within the Sacramento River watershed - Bay Delta Region. There was widespread support for this project from interagency Federal partners (U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), State Partners (California Department of Conservation Abandoned Mine Land Unit, California State Water Control Board, Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, and California Department of Fish and Game), Local Partners (Nevada County Department of Environmental Health, and Nevada County Resource Conservation District), and numerous private landowner watershed stakeholders.

Scope and Project Impact:

The Boston hydraulic gold mine sluice tunnel remediation project was the first successful pilot mercury removal project undertaken in California. The Boston Placer Mine is located in the Red Dog Mining District on Bureau of Land Management administered land and comprises the hydraulic mine site known as the Boston (Bunker Hill) Mine. This site is on the east side of Greenhorn Creek - Bear River drainage and is part of the ancestral Yuba River gold-bearing gravel deposit. The inlet and outlet of the short drain tunnel are connected to an elongated series of bedrock sluice cuts that are now part of an existing wetland/reservoir area. The drain tunnel formerly discharged water and sediment onto adjoining U.S. Forest Service-administered lands bordering and within Greenhorn Creek. Water and sediment sample results indicate high mercury contamination levels both in the 400-foot-long sluice tunnel and in the wetlands/reservoir area, which were created by a blockage at the inlet of the tunnel.

The Boston hydraulic gold mine is located on unpatented BLM administered land but adjoins large patented hydraulic and drift placer gold mines. The 40 acre mine site contains a 200 foot long sluice box tunnel containing high concentrations of elemental and methyl mercury in the tunnel sediments. The blocked inlet of the sluice tunnel created a small seasonal pond and wetland area which also contains high levels of methyl mercury in the water and biota. The sluice tunnel and several deep, vertical shafts presented a physical safety concern to the public. Skin contact with the mine water discharge posed a human health concern to recreational miners.

Boston Inlet Portal
Boston inlet portal. Inlet is blocked and flooded during wet season


Boston Hydraulic Mine Outlet of Tunnel
Boston Hydraulic Mine Outlet of Tunnel - Lot 80, Octo Placer Claims

This site presented an excellent location for a pilot remediation mercury cleanup project. The Boston Sluice Tunnel had one the highest mercury levels in water, sediment, and biota of all of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sites in the Bear River Watershed. Removing mercury contaminated sediments within the sluice tunnel reduced the site as a pollution "point source" and its subsequent transport into the watershed. The California State Water Board and other regulatory agencies required that BLM significant reduce mercury loading from its managed lands within the Sacramento River watershed - Bay Delta Region.

This site was BLM California's highest priority abandoned mine land (AML) site slated for cleanup in 2005. There was widespread support from interagency Federal partners (U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), State Partners (California Department of Conservation Abandoned Mine Land Unit, California State Water Board, Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, and California Department of Fish and Game), Local Partners (Nevada County Department of Environmental Health, and Nevada County Resource Conservation District), and numerous private landowner watershed stakeholders.

Members of the California Bureau of Land Management Abandoned Mine Land Team (CA BLM AML) Team for the Boston hydraulic gold mine sluice tunnel remediation project were:

  • David Lawler (Bureau of Land Management - California State Office - Division of Energy and Minerals) Project Manager - David provided project oversight and management; he directed this innovative mercury recovery project approach and execution. He was able to provide innovative pilot project remediation concepts at the Engineering Evaluation/Cost Analysis phase of the project and then work with team members in order to successfully implement and execute technological innovations and novel remediation solutions on this pilot project. His years of prior industry expertise in placer mine development and placer recovery techniques experience allowed him to achieve what many interagency team members alleged was impossible; namely the cost-effective separation of mercury from contaminated sediments within a hydraulic mine sluice tunnel abandoned mine lands site. Cost-effective mercury separation was achieved for a 5-10 percent cost increase, representing a solution that was substantially less in cost than construction of a conventional on-site waste repository and its associated long-term operations and maintenance costs.

  • Tim Carroll (Bureau of Land Management - Folsom Field Office) Project Inspector - Tim provided project oversight; He did a fine job at undertaking his duties as a project inspector. This project also provided an excellent opportunity for the Field Office and State Office to work in complimentary roles on this unique pilot Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) project.

  • Marc Springer (Bureau of Land Management - California State Office - Division of Energy and Minerals) Project Inspector - Marc provided project oversight; He also did a fine job in undertaking his duties as a fill-in project manager - when Dave Lawler was attending to other AML program duties. It also provided an excellent opportunity for this State office Minerals staff member to work in complimentary role with the Project Manager on this unique pilot CERCLA project.

  • Greg Reller (Tetra Tech) - Contract Project Manager - Greg provided project oversight; He brought to the team his expertise in AML mercury contamination and assessment. Greg was quick to use adaptive management methods to execute minor changes in the construction operations work plans in order to achieve.

  • Joel Bowman (Tetra Tech) - Project Technical Inspector - Joel provided project oversight; He also brought to the team his expertise in AML mercury contamination and assessment. Joel was able to share management oversight duties with Gregg Reller during the construction/remediation operations project phase.

  • Tim Callaway (Cherokee Development) - Subcontractor - Tim supervised the construction operations and the innovative mercury recovery operations; He was able to successfully implement and execute technological innovations and novel remediation solutions on this pilot project, to the amazement of all team members. His many years of underground mine development and mining methods experience allowed him to achieve what many interagency team members termed was an "impossible" project; namely the cost-effective separation of mercury from contaminated sediments within a sluice tunnel. Cost-effective mercury separation was achieved for a 5-10 percent cost increase, representing a solution that was substantially less in cost than construction of a conventional on-site waste repository and its associated long-term operations and maintenance costs.

  • Craig Rohrsen (BLM - Volunteer) Craig served as the Videographer for the project; he took more than 100 hours of video photography of the Boston Mine Project in order to accurately document the technological innovations and novel remediation solutions that were implemented by the team. In addition, he expended more than 200 hours in editing the video images and producing a commercial-quality film on DVD format, entitled "Boston Hydraulic Mine". (If this videography task was preformed as a contract, it would be valued at $5,000-$10,000). This DVD has been distributed to key AML watershed stakeholders in the Sierra Nevada region and to interagency program leads.

Additional Information

  • DVD of Project available upon request email John Key