Mining contamination prevention being set in place by Department of Natural Resources

Published: Mar. 31, 2022 at 6:01 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Department of Natural Resource will be placing conditions on 18 state-owned sites to prevent the spread of mining contamination, while still allowing for mining in the future under protective conditions.

The department is issuing what they call “Leaseholder Location Orders” or LLOs on more than 4,000 acres of state land in Southeast Alaska, Prince William Sound and Southwest Alaska, according to a press release from the DNR. Creating the orders for these lands put protections in place that will prevent the spread of future contamination.

Officials with the DNR emphasized that the contamination on the sites were caused by historic mining practices that are prohibited by modern state laws and regulations, and would violate contemporary industry practices.

The affected areas were contaminated by mining activities mostly on private lands nearby. These sites generally allowed uses like hunting or recreation, but there may still have been legitimate mining claims being worked.

The instance of the Klag Bay gold mine, which left contamination after operating on private land in the 1900s, was the inspiration behind these new restrictions, according to the press release. It was in that case that the department discovered contamination spread to land that became state owned later on.

Richard Lessard, mineral property manager for the department, said the Klag Bay Mine site is one of many contaminated sites in Alaska where orders could be beneficial. Many of the sites contain heavy metals such as lead, mercury or arsenic.

“It allows us to basically notify the miner there is a problem, there is contamination at this site,” Lessard said. “And that before they would be allowed to do any type of mining, they would have to get the properly permitted to be able to do the mining. ... such that these contaminations would not be spread and basically if they do want to mine the site, that the mining can be done in a safe and responsible manner.”

The orders will not impact any existing mining claims, according to the release. Rather, they notify existing miners of the contamination on their sites, so that they may take appropriate action. The press release listed several benefits that issuing the leaseholder orders on these 18 sites will have, including:

  • Keeping the areas open to mining.
  • Ensuring miners know the personal health and financial risks of operating on the sites.
  • Empowering DNR to keep a thorough record of activity on the sites, essential to future clean-up activities.
  • Streamlining coordination between DNR and Department of Environmental Conservation for remediation and mining activities.

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