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Mary Koch | The old mine again yields prosperity for community

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HOLDEN VILLAGE — It amuses me that in this remote wilderness get-away I am meeting neighbors from back home in Okanogan County — neighbors I’d never met before.

There’s Ed, a mechanic who lived in and still owns a house just a few doors from mine in Omak. There’s Sean, whose grandmother is a friend and lives in the next block; Rhonda, who drove a Paschal Sherman school bus for years, and Graciella, who lives with her family in Brewster. They’re a few of the hundreds of workers tackling the massive Holden Mine remediation effort. We have engineers and truck drivers, cooks and custodians, all of them temporary residents — just like me. People don’t live at Holden permanently. Even we long-term staff members stay for just a few years at most. We — meaning village staff as well as mine remediation workers — are from all over the world.

Rio Tinto, the global corporation that is overseeing and paying for the environmental cleanup, presented an economic impact analysis at a meeting in Chelan last spring. The company has budgeted $105 million for the project and anticipates spending $30 million of that “locally” over the life of the project. That includes ferry services and marine transport (those heavily laden barges Lake Chelan residents see moving up-lake several times a week), equipment rental, fuel, subcontracted and professional services, lodging, and construction-related goods and services. Add to that, say the analysts, the “multiplier effect” — another $15 million.

Part of the multiplier effect comes from Ed, Sean, Rhonda and others spending their paychecks so that local businesses can add to their payrolls. The mine project payroll includes $4.3 million in wages for “local” workers over the life of the project. I don’t know what they mean by “local.” I’ve lived in Okanogan County enough years (34 and counting) to know that “local” can include a lot of territory. From the neighbors I’ve met, I’m guessing those millions are spread from Wenatchee to the Okanogan and beyond.

In my office is a reproduction of the April 26, 1939, Wenatchee World front page with a banner headline shouting: RICHES POUR FROM HOLDEN MINE. The subhead declares: 350 EMPLOYED; DAILY PAYROLL REACHES $2,000. Those riches stopped pouring in 1957 Still, it’s as lucrative, at least for your neighbors and mine — even the ones we haven’t met yet.


Mary Koch, Omak, is living and working at Holden as the village’s communications coordinator during the mine remediation project. She can be reached at