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2011 BLM Reclamation and Sustainable Mineral Development Award Winners

On October 17, 2011, BLM presented awards for outstanding examples of reclamation and sustainable mineral development. The awards recognize the efforts made in implementing the principles of sustainable development, a concept adopted by the United States and 192 other countries, to balance environmental, economic, and social concerns in planning for mining operations.  The awards were presented at an awards dinner hosted by the National Mining Association in Washington, D.C.

The BLM Hardrock Mineral Environmental Award highlights the component of sustainable development relating to environmental stewardship. It recognizes an operator having exceptional accomplishments in meeting or exceeding federal, state, or local reclamation requirements, as well as efforts to work with the public, the Department of the Interior and other regulators to advance multiple-use objectives.

The BLM Hardrock Mineral Community Outreach and Security Award recognizes projects that highlight the economic benefits of mineral development. The award acknowledges operators and other organizations that contribute to the quality of life or long-term health of their local communities. Winners are also recognized for incorporating community concerns in their development or closure plans in a creative fashion.

The BLM Hardrock Mineral Small Operator Award recognizes environmental stewardship achievements of operators with less than 15 employees. In addition to conducting high-quality reclamation work, the winner of this award may have undertaken extraordinary measures to reduce the footprint of the operation on the land, reducing the need for reclamation.

The BLM “Fix A Shaft Today!” (“FAST!”) Award recognizes active participation in the FAST! Campaign, a partnership initiative to eradicate unsafe abandoned mine land features, especially open mine shafts.

2011 BLM Hardrock Mineral Environmental Award Winner
TVX Mineral Hill Mine 

Francis McAllister, National Mining Association; Mike Nedd, BLM; John Young and Ron Burke, Kinross Gold U.S.A.; Marcilynn Burke and Bob Abbey, BLM; and Hal Quinn, National Mining Association.

The operation of TVX Mineral Hill Mine in the Jardine mining district of central Montana serves as an exemplar for how the "life of mine" cycle can be accomplished without adverse impacts to local communities and a national treasure like Yellowstone National Park.

Placer gold was first discovered in the Jardine district in 1866. Commercial mining for gold and arsenic began in 1880 and continued until 1948, when low arsenic prices and a mill fire brought production to a halt.

Modern mining in Jardine began in the late 1980s, and was accomplished through the placement of waste rock in mined out areas. Operations ceased in 1996 when metal prices plummeted again.

With mining offline, the Mineral Hill Mine, acquired by TVX Mineral Hill Inc. in 1993, was placed in standby status. TVX launched a multiphase plan to reclaim the area that demonstrated how modern techniques can restore historic mining disturbances into an aesthetically pleasing landscape that supports a variety of sustainable uses.

In 1994, TVX hired a local contractor to remove a dilapidated arsenic mill adjacent to Bear Creek, a mountain stream that flows into Yellowstone National Park. Although no measurable environmental impacts were found, contaminated mill debris and soils were removed from the mill site and transferred to a modern tailings storage facility for containment and final disposal.

In 1996, approximately 64,000 cubic yards of historic tailings were removed from the northern portion of the site and transferred to the modern storage facility. The site was then regarded with cover soil and revegetated with native grasses, forbs, shrubs and trees. Moose, elk, mule deer and other indigenous species were observed using the restored habitat.

In 2000, another 188,000 yards of historic tailings and subsoil were excavated from the southern portion of the site and transferred to the storage facility. A local youth group was employed to plant native sage and rabbit brush seedlings within the reclamation area. The group used its wages to fund a trip to Mexico, where it built a house for an impoverished family.

In 2008, TVX worked with the U.S. Forest Service to close historic mine openings in the Jardine area. Some of the closures were completed in such a manner as to restrict public access while allowing bats and other small mammals to enter the mines.

TVX has carried the principles of innovative engineering, creative reclamation design, and community collaboration into its contemporary underground mining operations in the Jardine area. Native grasses and forbs were reestablished and Douglas Fir seedlings were planted in areas where portals had been constructed. The slope was recontoured to the original grade after removal and disposal of the mill and process facilities. An impermeable line was installed over the upper five acres and surface drainage channels of the tailings storage facility after it was closed in 2005. A water treatment technique was developed to remove dissolved arsenic out of the site's mine drainage.

TVX also agreed to come to the aid of Park County, where the mine is located, in the event of local emergencies. The county can use the site's heavy equipment during major snowstorms or forest fires, or TVX's office facilities as a base of operations for law enforcement and search-and-rescue operations.

2011 BLM Hardrock Mineral Community Outreach and Security Award Winner
Alaska Miners Association Small Mining Committee

Francis McAllister, National Mining Association; Mike Nedd, BLM; Brian Berkhahn and Steve Borell, Alaska Miners Association; Marcilynn Burke and Bob Abbey, BLM, and Hal Quinn,  National Mining Association.

Over the past decade, the Small Scale Mining Committee has served as an integral conduit between Alaskan placer miners and federal and state regulators.

With regulations governing placer mining in Alaska growing over the last several decades, small-scale and family-operated mining firms found themselves facing a degree of uncertainty about permitting requirements and other regulations they faced.

With this in mind, the Small Scale Mining Committee convened its first meeting between the placer mining community and regulators in early 2008.

Following a series of meetings over the next several months, the Committee released the "Alaska Placer Mining Claim Operations Guide." The pamphlet outlines the rights and responsibilities of placer miners. With the additional information at their fingertips, miners are able to get their permits in better order.

Since that time, the Committee has hosted regular meetings that have helped resolve other conflicts between the mining community and regulators.

The Committee's efforts to bring together Alaska Miners Association members and state and federal regulators have helped better the understanding of all parties of the issues concerning small-scale and family-operated mines in Alaska.

2011 BLM Hardrock Mineral Small Operator Award Winner
Compass Mining, Inc.

Francis McAllister, National Mining Association;  Mike Nedd, BLM; Louise Hall, Ethel Hall, and Jasper Hall, Compass Mining; Marcilynn Burke and Bob Abbey, BLM; and Hal Quinn, National Mining Association.

Compass Mining, Inc.'s Linda Creek venture is a model for any underground lode or surface placer mine that wishes to mine in an economically sustainable manner while minimizing environmental impacts.

As the glaciers receded in northern Alaska at the end of the last ice age, the land surface rose. Gold-bearing gravel that had resided in stream valleys during the arid ice age climate were left behind as the streams incised into slate bedrock. The gold now lay under tundra and taiga forests.

In the early 20th century, miners discovered the gold-bearing gravel on the lower portion of Linda Creek, located in Alaska's Yukon-Koyukuk District. However, once Linda Creek bent left, the deposits were buried under a hundred feet of frozen gravel.

Modern mining techniques would have called for the use of large dozers and excavators to economically remove the overburden from the gravel. But when John Hall began placer mining on the upper portion of Linda Creek in 1978, he saw a different way.

Mr. Hall, founder of Compass Mining, employed small-scale underground mechanical methods. Operations began in October with the drilling and blasting of the frozen gravel. The pay gravel was stockpiled until the temperature was warm enough for the gravel to thaw. The tailings from the operation were dozed onto piles that would eventually be contoured to match the local topography.

As a family operation, Compass continues these practices to this day. Production is slower, but the resulting piles of tailings occupy only hundreds of yards of space, rather than thousands. This smaller volume allows Compass to use a smaller wash plant and to manage its water use for minimal surface impacts.

At a total footprint of less than five acres, the Compass underground placer mine has perhaps one of the lowest ratios of disturbance per ounce of gold in all of Alaska. Compass continually receives high marks from compliance inspectors for low surface disturbance and good water management.

2010 BLM FAST! Award Winner
Teck American, Incorporated

Francis McAllister, National Mining Association; Mike Nedd, BLM; David Godlewski, Teck American Inc.; David Abranovic, Environmental Resources Management; Janet Deisley, Teck Resources Ltd.; Marcilynn Burke and Bob Abbey, BLM; and Hal Quinn, National Mining Association.

For over a century, silver, lead, zinc and tungsten were extracted at the McCracken mine site in Mohave County, Arizona. Teck American acquired the patent claims for the site in 1983, and leased the site for mining silver from 1983 to 1985. No mining activity has taken place since.

Mohave County is a popular area for hikers and off-road vehicle riders. As such, in 2005, an off-roading enthusiast approached Teck American about acquiring the McCracken site.

Although Teck American had never operated the McCracken mine, it determined that it would undertake an extensive closure plan due to the potential safety risks posed by the deep shafts and rotting timbers at the site. The plan was developed in 2007 in conjunction with local off-road vehicle clubs and regulators. 

With the help of contractor Environmental Resources Management, in 2008 Teck American secured 47 mine openings at the site using polyurethane foam and backfill.

In addition, Teck American enlisted a prominent academic, who conducted a survey that determined several mine openings served as habitat for four species of bat. With the habitat threatened by recreational caving, mine exploration, and vandalism, Teck American had nine culvert-type gate closures installed at the site. A followup survey noted more than 1,700 bats at three closures on the site.

Teck American also partnered on the project with the BLM, which authorized the closure of public roads used to transport heavy equipment, and as well as the closure of two public land features connected to openings in the mine site.

Teck American implemented the closure plan with an unwavering commitment to health and public safety, as well as the preservation of significant wildlife habitat. All parties involved displayed a commitment to responsible and sustainable mineral development.