Monte Cristo cleanup ‘a disaster’?

MONTE CRISTO — Bill Lider hiked to this historic mining townsite east of Granite Falls over the weekend to take photos of the landscape before a multimillion dollar project to excavate 18,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil begins.

Lider, 61, a Lynnwood man who has long been a voice on environmental issues in Snohomish County, is worried about the impact of the project, saying it could pollute Glacier Creek, increase erosion and disrupt spotted owl habitat.

“It’s a disaster what they are planning to do,” said Lider, a civil engineer. “They are grossly underestimating the cost and the environmental damage.”

But Glacier Creek is already being contaminated by arsenic in runoff coming from the old mining town, said Peter Forbes, district ranger for the Darrington Ranger District.

“We are trying to balance our choices with how to do the clean up and minimize the impact to other resources,” Forbes said.

The U.S. Forest Service is in charge of the project, planned to begin next year and continue through 2015. The goal is to move soil contaminated with mining tailings away from the area’s water sources.

The Forest Service has worked on this project for several years and has hired Spokane-based Cascade Earth Sciences to provide guidance on how to do the work while causing minimal damage to the environment, Forbes said.

In 2006, the Forest Service was sued by the Washington Environmental Council under the federal Clean Water Act for failing to move fast enough on cleaning up the mine tailings. A judge ruled in favor of the Forest Service, but public pressure was on to get Monte Cristo cleaned up.

Three years later, the Forest Service and the state Department of Ecology filed claims in Asarco’s bankruptcy proceedings. Together the agencies were awarded $11 million, which is expected to pay for the Monte Cristo cleanup.

Still, Lider is concerned about what could happen with the cleanup and that’s why he ventured up to the site over the weekend.

He is planning to use his photographs in a presentation to the public about the project and other environmental issues at 7 p.m. at the REI Alderwood, 3000 184th St. SW, Suite 952, Lynnwood.

Alejandro Dominguez: 425-339-3422; adominguez@heraldnet.com

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