North Wind Tackles Cleanup in Idaho’s Silver Valley

[lightbox link=”” thumb=”×200.jpg” width=”300″ align=”left” title=”NW_1″ frame=”true” icon=”image” caption=””]Due to its earlier success in aiding mine remediation efforts in Idaho’s Silver Valley, CIRI subsidiary North Wind Construction Services (NWCS) was recently awarded two contracts: one to remove all mine tailings and contaminated materials from the now-defunct Success Mine, and the second to receive and manage those waste materials.

In its heyday, the aptly-named Success Mine was one of the great mines of Idaho; in 1911, it produced more than 8 million pounds of zinc in addition to lead and silver. Today, approximately seven miles north of the town of Wallace, Idaho, sits all that’s left of what was once the largest mine in Nine Mile Canyon: 400,000 cubic yards – approximately 250 acre-feet – of mine dump material.

Thankfully, NWCS has the experienced team, expertise and equipment to take on this latest cleanup challenge. Work for the East Fork Nine Mile Creek Waste Consolidation Area (WCA) Expansion and Success Consolidation Project will be carried out over a four-year period under two contracts with the Coeur d’Alene Trust, a nonprofit entity that manages the funds for the cleanup project, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“We are, without question, the leading local contractor in the Coeur d’Alene Basin for environmental cleanup services,” said NWCS President/General Manager Kevin Redmond. “This is our bread and butter – mine and mill site cleanup, environmental remediation and site reclamation in the Silver Valley.”

A Cleanup Project of ‘Super’ Proportions

The Silver Valley stretches 40 miles along the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River. Underground mining began full force in the area in the 1890s and largely ceased in the early 1980s, when silver prices dropped to $3 per ounce. (Today, silver hovers around $20 per ounce). During that nearly 100-year period, miners extracted almost a billion ounces of silver, making it one of the top two silver-producing regions in the world. Three million tons of zinc and 8 million tons of lead were also produced.

That success did not come without a price. Heavy metal pollution – lead, cadmium, arsenic and zinc – dissolved into the groundwater and drained into the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River. Soils were tainted with lead. Acid rain poisoned plants and aquatic life and eroded infrastructure. Children in some areas were found to have an average lead level of 50 micrograms per deciliter of blood; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses a reference level of 5 micrograms per deciliter to identify children with blood lead levels that are much higher than average.

In 1983, the EPA assigned Superfund status to a 21-square-mile area of the Silver Valley; in 2002, it was expanded to encompass the entire 1,500-square-mile Coeur d’Alene Basin. Superfund is a federal program designed to clean up sites contaminated with hazardous substances and pollutants.

North Wind to the Rescue

North Wind set up shop in the town of Kellogg, Idaho, in 2003, with the goal to start a construction division. “We were a four-person crew back then,” Redmond said. “We started out with just property remediation oversight, Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management projects and small mine cleanup projects. Now we have 60 employees in the Kellogg area, 30 of whom are assigned to these new contracts.”

Construction of the Waste Consolidation Area began under a separate North Wind Construction Services contract three years ago. “Basically, the WCA is one big landfill where we receive, place and compact mine waste,” said Mark Feldman, NWCS project manager/engineer. “The purpose is to minimize the opportunity for contaminant transport into the environment under the ongoing influence of groundwater, stormwater, snowmelt and rain. Upon completion, the waste will be capped, so it doesn’t have minimal impact – it will have no impact. The contaminants themselves are pretty stationary as long as water doesn’t get to them.”

Work began this year and will extend through 2019. At the WCA, the team will produce rock product for an expanded base drain system, salvage top soil and accept, place and compact mine waste. Two miles away at the Success Mine site, the team will excavate, load and haul mine waste, install a stream protection system and work to stabilize and revegetate the area. [lightbox link=”” thumb=”×200.jpg” width=”300″ align=”right” title=”The waste will be placed and compacted to prevent air, water and soil contamination. Photo by Jason Moore.” frame=”true” icon=”image” caption=”The waste will be placed and compacted to prevent air, water and soil contamination. Photo by Jason Moore.”]

“We’re essentially doubling the footprint of the WCA,” Feldman said. “This is steep and deep country; you’ve gotta do it in stages. It takes a lot of rock to build these things and we have to generate everything on site. If we had to haul it in, it would be cost prohibitive.

“What’s unique about this project is that it’s very close quarters,” Feldman explained. “There’s no room; the repository is literally hanging off the side of a mountain. That hasn’t prevented us from completing work safely, but it’s a challenge. There’s no flat space to work. But it’s going really well and it’s a fun project. As soon as you start digging, it’s a matter of figuring it out as you go. But we’re good at it. That’s what’s made us successful.”

About North Wind Construction Services

NWCS provides a range of construction services to a multitude of customers, including state and federal government agencies and commercial and private businesses. The company has a strong history of successful site remediation and reclamation, which includes providing technical, construction and remedial services to the Coeur d’Alene Trust, EPA and the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality to address Coeur d’Alene Basin metals contamination in surface water, groundwater, mine drainage, tailings and soils. NWCS is a subsidiary of North Wind Group.
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