About The Project

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About The Project

Project Background and Mine History

The Holden Mine is located in a remote spot near Lake Chelan in north-central Washington State. It was one of the largest operating copper mines in the United States from 1938 to 1957. Developed by the Howe Sound Company, the mine and related mill facilities produced about 200 million pounds of copper, 40 million pounds of zinc, two   million ounces of silver and 600,000 ounces of gold from approximately 10 million tons of ore.  Nearly 60 miles of underground tunnels were excavated and about 8.5 million tons of mill tailings (ground rock left over after minerals are removed) were placed on 90 acres of U.S. National Forest lands near Railroad Creek. Another 1.5 million tons of tailings were put back into the mine. Large piles of waste rock are located near the mine portal and other nearby locations. Soil and water in the immediate area of the mine are contaminated by metals from the mining process and need to be cleaned up.

After the Holden Mine was closed, the Howe Sound Company sold the mine and the accompanying town site to the Lutheran Bible Institute for one dollar. A spiritual retreat center and community, known as Holden Village, has operated at the site since then, accommodating some 5,000 seasonal visitors a year (most stay one to two weeks). Between 60-100 people live at Holden Village year-round. The remote Village is accessible only via local ferry service on Lake Chelan or by hiking over the Cascade Mountains. It operates under a Forest Service special-use permit.

The environmental impact of tailings and waste rock dumped on wetlands and near the creek prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to declare the closed mine a Superfund site in the late 1980s. EPA identified Intalco as the Potentially Responsible Party (PRP) for remediating the mine site. Intalco is a successor to the Howe Sound Company, the company that operated the mine until it closed in 1960.  Rio Tinto never owned or operated the Holden Mine. Intalco Aluminum Corporation, a successor to the Howe Sound Company, is responsible for the cleanup. However, through the 2007 acquisition of Alcan (formerly a part owner of Intalco), Rio Tinto agreed to pay for and manage the cleanup on behalf of Intalco. Intalco and Rio Tinto are separate companies.

The parties involved have been working on strategies and agreements for the mine remediation process since the mid-1990s. Some 14 different alternatives for the cleanup effort were studied. The U.S. Forest Service and other state and federal agencies signed off on the cleanup strategy through a Record of Decision issued in late January 2012. Negotiations with the Forest Service are now underway on the detailed scope of the cleanup process, which is expected to take approximately five years. Because of the extent of cleanup work, Holden Village plans to adjust its visitor programs for two years during construction. Holden Village will provide a number of services to the project, including accommodation and meals to construction crews during this time.

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