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Saddle Rock mine sites to be cleaned up

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WENATCHEE — The public health risk is minimal, but elevated levels of arsenic and several other metals in old Saddle Rock mining sites will require a $1 million cleanup in 2015.

The state Department of Ecology, city of Wenatchee and Chelan Douglas Land Trust are working together on a plan to remove thousands of pounds of contaminated dirt and rocks from eight sites around Saddle Rock, at the western edge of Wenatchee.

The city, which owns Saddle Rock and 325 acres surrounding it, is responsible for the cleanup. However, state grants will likely pay for much of the work.

The cleanup will probably take place in late summer or early fall 2015. In conjunction with that work, the Land Trust is planning to do extensive trail rebuilding, slope stabilization and erosion control.

It’s going to be a mess for awhile,” said Bob Bugert, executive director of the Land Trust. “But when it’s done, it’s going to be great.”

He said the city and Land Trust were aware of the need to clean up the site before buying Saddle Rock in 2011. There are three former mines — Sunrise Mine, Squaw Saddle Mine and Gold Knob Mine — and numerous old claims and mining exploration sites dating back to the early 1900s.

Environmental studies done when the city and Land Trust were working to acquire the land from the state Department of Natural Resources found elevated levels of several metals. More investigation was done last year to determine the extent of the contamination.

Ecology found elevated levels of arsenic, aluminum, antimony, barium, mercury, selenium, silver and vanadium. While the levels exceed state standards, they are not high enough to pose a high health risk.

For the recreational user, the potential for arsenic contamination is very low,” said Jason Shira, project manager for Ecology. “But we are erring on the side of caution. As a public park, state laws have a higher bar than if this was someplace nobody goes.”

The agency identified eight sites around Saddle Rock where soil and rocks must be removed. The sites range in size from 198 square feet to 12,569 square feet and total about three quarters of an acre.

The work will require heavy equipment to dig up and haul away the material. Roads will have to be improved or built, and then rehabilitated afterward.

Mine openings may also be closed if they are found to be dangerous.

Shira said the former claim holders and mine owners have been identified through historic records, but none of the companies are still in existence. That leaves the burden of cleanup to the current owner — the city.

There are a lot of these contaminated mine sites in the state,” he said. “Since there’s no mining company around to pay for it, a lot of the clean-up burden falls on the taxpayers.”

Reach Michelle McNiel at 509-664-7152 or . Follow her on Twitter at @MichelMcNielWW.