Monte Cristo mine presents a cleanup problem of historic proportions

  • Tue Nov 17th, 2009 10:19pm
  • News

By Katya Yefimova Herald Writer

DARRINGTON — Hazardous waste at the old Monte Cristo mines has to go, but officials still haven’t decided when or how.

U.S. Forest Service representatives in September met with the public to discuss the cleanup plan. About 60 people came to offer their opinions, said Renee Bodine, spokeswoman for the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

“That mine is part of the town’s history and heritage,” she said. “It’s complicated to figure out how to deal with a hazardous site.”

When gold and silver were discovered in the area in the late 1800s, thousands of people began to flock to eastern Snohomish County. The mines, located in the upper South Fork Sauk River, produced millions of dollars in minerals before they were shut down in the early 20th century.

With the comments they heard at the meeting, engineers and rangers hope to draft a proposal within a month, Darrington District Ranger Peter Forbes said. People will then have another opportunity to offer comments.

“We are trying to do as little as we can and deal with the hazardous waste issue,” he said.

Mining technology in those days was far from efficient, and miners didn’t know how to separate the valuable metals from the ore without creating waste, said David Cameron, vice president of the Monte Cristo Preservation Association.

Now, officials are concerned the toxic waste is polluting the water, air and soil in the Monte Cristo area and downstream. That’s why the Forest Service is working out a plan to clean it up, but it’s too early to say when the process will start or how it will be done.

“Our main concern is that as little damage be done as possible to the historical, archeological and cultural values of the area,” Cameron said.

His nonprofit group has worked for more than 25 years to preserve the historic site and to keep it accessible to visitors. The Monte Cristo area is popular with hikers, climbers and horse riders. The site is not easily accessible though, Cameron said. The road is rundown, and a bridge was damaged several years ago by a flood.

The organization hopes the road, expected to be built for the cleanup process, will remain open for public use.

Katya Yefimova: 425-339-3452,

There’s more

Learn more about the Monte Cristo Preservation Association at

Find more about federal cleanup plans at