Drilling, along with laser and sonar probes, planned at Pennsylvania Mine this summer
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Research at the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine, high in the Peru Creek drainage, will go deeper than ever before this year, as state experts prepare to drill underground to try and get a better handle on how water moves through the tunnels of the mine and the fissures of the surrounding mountain.
The work at the mine is expected to cost between $450,000 and $800,000, according to a recent update from the Snake River Watershed Task Force. Specific projects include laser and sonar surveys in the mine workings, as well as visual inspections with a borehole camera.
Among the questions they hope to answer is where water enters the mine workings and whether that water is clean or polluted. In order to develop a cleanup plan, the reclamation experts also want to determine exactly how the water moves through the mine. That could help determine whether the pollution could be controlled at the source with bulkheads, surface seals, or even by separating clean water flows from the pollution sources. Photos from previous research activities are online here.
Other reclamation projects are under way in the area which could also help improve water quality in the Peru Creek drainage and the upper Snake River. That work includes reclamation of the Silverspoon mine site by consolidating waste, as well as similar work at the Delaware mine site, where some metals-laden waste could be moved away from the water, capped and re-vegetated.
The mine likely contributes up to 50 percent of the heavy metal pollution that taints Peru Creek and the Snake River downstream, and the pollution may be getting worse, according to ongoing sampling. Concentrations of zinc have increased seasonally, along with spikes above the confluence of Peru Creek and Deer Creek, as well as below the confluence of Peru Creek and the Snake River.
Concentrations of several metals exceed state-set limits and the water in Peru Creek and the upper reaches of the Snake River is toxic to trout. Sudden surges in the levels of metals in the stream related to a 2007 rainstorm may have all but wiped out brook trout in the stream. No brook trout were found during sampling in 2008 and 2009, but returned to the stream in 2010.
County officials said they support the ongoing research at the mines, while EPA officials said the science could help shape a long-term cleanup plan.