Elizabeth Mine subject of EPA public meeting

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(Host) The Environmental Protection Agency will hold a public meeting tonight in South Strafford to discuss the final phase of the clean up of the “Elizabeth Mine.”

In the past, the clean-up plans have been the subject of some public opposition and a shortage of federal money.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) The Elizabeth copper mine in South Strafford operated from the early 1800’s until 1958. When it closed, operators left behind abandoned mineshafts and piles of tailings that posed a safety and environmental hazard.

The government determined that a dam composed of the tailings was a threat to downstream residents, and that runoff from the abandoned operation was contaminating ground and surface water. About six years ago, the government declared the mine a federal Superfund site.

Bob Walker is with a local citizens group. Walker says when the Environmental Protection Agency stepped in local residents were put off by the huge agency and the size and complexity of a Superfund project. Over time Walker says the agency has become more responsive.

(Walker) “I think they did a good job of stepping back and taking time to meet with the community and address their concerns and try to come up with solutions.”

(Zind) The first phase of the clean up was aimed at making sure the mine site didn’t pose a threat to public safety. That was completed.

The second phase to clean up streams affected by runoff from the mine was delayed for three years because it lacked federal funding. It got underway this year.

The final phase is designed to address remaining problems.

Ed Hathaway is with the EPA’s Boston office. Hathaway says the cost of the clean up could reach $27 million and take another five years to complete.

He says the wild card is the availability of federal funds from year to year.

(Hathaway) “Its one of those questions that’s impossible to answer. Every year we put out a budget and all I can say is each year we’re going to try, see what money we get and put it to good use.”

(Zind) The state will have to pay 10% of the six million dollar cost of the final phase of the clean up.

John Freitag is with another citizens group that in the past has raised concerns that declaring the mine a Superfund site was expensive and unnecessary. He favored a different, less costly approach.

Freitag says now his group is most concerned with preserving the site for its history and its lessons.

(Freitag) “This site in particular which has an over two hundred year history of mining presents the opportunity to understand both the work that’s gone on in the past but also what needs to be done to clean up the environment afterwards.”

(Zind) Freitag says he hopes eventually to see an interpretative trail at the mine site.

The EPA will hold a public meeting to talk about plans for the final phase of the Elizabeth Mine clean-up this evening at 7 at Barrett Hall in South Strafford.

Then on, August 1st the EPA will hold a hearing on the plan in order to give area residents a chance to speak for the record.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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