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Public invited to comment on Kolmakof Mine Site

 

Bureau of Land Management

The Kolmakof Mine Site, an abandoned cinnabar mercury mine, is located on the Kuskokwim River 9 miles west of Napaimute and 19 miles east of Aniak.

The Kolmakof Mine Site is an abandoned cinnabar (mercury) mine on lands currently administered by the Bureau of Land Management or the BLM. This abandoned mercury mine is located on the north bank of the Kuskokwim River approximately 19 miles east of Aniak and 9 miles west of Napaimute. It has been investigated to help identify and protect public lands and the users of those lands from the effects of hazardous materials and waste.

The KMS is within the Napaimute Village Townsite selection and the surface estate is scheduled to be conveyed to The Kuskokwim Corporation (TKC). The subsurface estate is scheduled to be conveyed to Calista Corporation in accordance with the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

BLM must complete reclamation/cleanup of the site before conveyance can be accomplished.

The BLM has announced the availability of the Administrative Record and the Engineering Evaluation/Cost Analysis for public review and comment for the Kolmakof Mine Site.

In 2006, a HazMat inspection was conducted by Larry Beck, BLM Environmental Protection Specialist and Project Manager at the old mine site. With him was Mark Leary, Tribal Administrator for the Native Village of Napaimute.

According to the Field Inspection Report by Mr. Beck, it was stated that TKC will not accept title to the land in its present condition.

Items found on the derelict mine site include a collapsing ball mill, a dozen or so old mercury flasks left in a shed next to the ball mill, the remains of a burned down dynamite shed which may have housed TNT which does contain hazardous chemicals, a pond approximately 10-15 feet from the ball mill, the remains of a blue truck left on an old road, and numerous piles of drums scattered in the general vicinity of a suspected retort area, and other debris.

An old device resembling a beer keg that may have been used as a retort was also found. Also nearby in the camp area were a shed, three cabins, the manager’s house, and an old storage wall tent. The camp area is connected to the mining area by a dirt road now overgrown with foliage.

The insides of the abandoned cabins were littered with household type materials, clothing, and other materials. Inside the camp kitchen there was shelving with cooking and old containers of food along with bottles of some kind of unidentified liquid.

The following history of the Kolmakof Mine is courtesy of the BLM’s Kolmakof Mine Site Project Homepage:

Within the history of the Kolmakof Mine it is said that the cinnabar deposits were first discovered by Russian explorers in about 1838, making it one of Alaska’s earliest mineral discoveries.

A distinguishing characteristic of the deposit is that it is located within a high bluff overlooking the Kuskokwim River; natural erosion action of the river causes the reddish cinnabar to become exposed to view by travelers on the river and pieces of fresh cinnabar can be easily collected from the river bank.

Exploration of the deposit dates back to 1881, with small-scale mining occurring from time-to-time. US Government funded exploration activities in the 1950’s and 1960’s failed to locate any significant deposits of cinnabar in the area beyond the original.

Formal records and anecdotal evidence indicate that approximately 250 “flasks” worth of mercury has been extracted from KMS cinnabar. A “flask” holds 2½ quarts of mercury and weighs about 76 lbs.

In the early days 2 flasks of mercury produced in an on-site homemade retort are recorded to have been sold to local miners for fine gold amalgamation.

Most of the mined ore appears to have been shipped to refineries in Tacoma, WA and San Francisco, CA for processing. None of the mining efforts ever proved profitable; the deposit held mercury-rich cinnabar, but not enough of it to justify the high cost of mining and processing.

All of the buildings and equipment found at the KMS today date from the 1940’s and later, most being property of the R&H Mining Company which operated the KMS mining claims from 1965 until closure.

The most aggressive mining at the KMS occurred during R&H’s time; they brought in a large bulldozer and used explosives to blast away rock at the top of the bluff to expose and break free cinnabar. The miners hand-sorted cinnabar pieces from the rubble, then cleared the debris from the open pit by pushing it over the bluff. A ball mill was employed to crush the ore and a flotation circuit was brought in to further concentrate/purify the cinnabar.

R&H conducted some testing of retorting mercury on-site, but since the price of mercury was in steep decline retorting on-site did not get past small scale testing. The last known production of cinnabar occurred in 1970, and the last claims were abandoned and void by 1993.

***

The Administrative Record for this project contains all documents the BLM has used to support its decisions on appropriate response actions to be taken at the KMS. The BLM is performing a “non-time critical” removal action pursuant to the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), as amended, with concurrence by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

The Environmental Engineering and Cost Analysis identifies the BLM’s preferred alternative for response action at the KMS.

The public comment period is open until January 24th, 2013.

 

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