Award cites trail-blazing effort, significant environmental benefit
(Denver, Colo., June 29, 2007) — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials will present the EPA Environmental Achievement Award to Russ Schnitzer at the EPA Region 8 Headquarters in Denver on Monday.
Carol Rushin, EPA Assistant Regional Administrator, will present the award to Russ Schnitzer, formally Trout Unlimited’s Field Director for Abandoned Mines, now of The Nature Conservancy.
Assistant Regional Administrator Rushin said, “Russ is one of several individuals who took extraordinary steps to clean up a polluting, abandoned mine site, helping to save a watershed and in the process blaze a trail for other good samaritans to follow.”
The effort being recognized constitutes a national, precedent-setting accomplishment, requiring dedication and persistence in overcoming liability and technical environmental barriers, she noted.
Carol Russell, Region 8 Tribal Water Quality Team Leader, formerly the Region’s Mining Coordinator, said, “In completing this effort and other efforts relevant to the Hard Rock Mining initiative, Trout Unlimited has been a model for other organizations.”
“They have demonstrated the significance of this environmental issue so critical to the West and how important it is for others to step forward as Good Samaritans to clean up abandoned mine sites,” she said, noting, “these awardees are representatives of an army of watershed protection and restoration volunteers.”
The Forest Service and Trout Unlimited implemented a series of cleanup activities at the site, which is located on both private and public land and lies between Provo and Salt Lake City in the Utah Lake watershed, Utah. The mine site is adjacent to the American Fork River which now, thanks to the cleanup, can support the rare, native cutthroat trout in a 10-mile stretch downstream of the mine.
In 2003, the Forest Service performed a clean-up, removing tailings and restoring public lands. In 2005, Trout Unlimited, a Good Samaritan, working with Snowbird Ski Resort, the owner of adjacent private property, and Tiffany & Co. Foundation, spearheaded the cleanup of 33,000 cubic yards of waste rock and tailings with elevated levels of heavy metals at abandoned mines on private property. These wastes are now safely encapsulated in a permanent repository constructed near the Pacific Mine on Snowbird Ski Resort’s property. Tiffany & Co. Foundation provided financial support for the project. Additional funding was obtained through Congressional appropriations, and NRCS managed the federal grants to perform the cleanup.
The American Fork site is one of more than 500,000 orphaned mine sites throughout the West. These sites profoundly impact the affected land and water resources downstream. At many orphan mine sites and processing areas, disturbed rock and waste piles contain high levels of sulfides and heavy metals. These piles, when exposed to air and water, undergo physical and chemical reactions that create acid drainage. As this drainage runs through mineral-rich rock, it often picks up other metals –such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury and zinc — in solution or in suspension as sediment. When this runoff enters local streams and rivers, it can severely degrade water quality, damage or destroy insect, plant and animal life.
The Good Samaritan Initiative is an Agency-wide initiative to accelerate restoration of watersheds and fisheries threatened by abandoned hard rock mine runoff by encouraging voluntary cleanups by parties that do not own the property and are not responsible for the property’s environmental conditions.
EPA recently announced its release of Good Samaritan administrative tools for helping interested stakeholders to clean up abandoned mine sites. These tools are intended to facilitate many more Good Samaritan cleanups.
When releasing the Good Samaritan Tools, EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson said, “President Bush is clearing legal roadblocks that for too long have prevented the cleanup of our nation’s watersheds. Through EPA’s administrative action, we are reducing the threat of litigation from voluntary hardrock mine cleanups and allowing America’s Good Samaritans to finally get their shovels into the dirt.”
Award winners from other locations associated with the American Fork project have previously received awards and will receive further awards in the near future.
EPA Region 8 presents awards in four categories to individuals and groups external to the regional office. This award recognizes significant achievements in protection of public health or the environment, or in advancing the Agency’s current strategic goals. Among the criteria is an outstanding contribution to environmental protection through a single action, or by an ongoing action over an appreciable period of time.