HELENA – State officials said Wednesday that they expect to reclaim millions of dollars worth of gold as they start cleaning up an old mine site north of Yellowstone National Park.
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality said reclaiming the 30-acre McLaren Tailings Site near Cooke City is a multimillion dollar project that will also result in salvageable gold that can be sold.
The state estimates there could be $25 million to $30 million worth of gold in the tailings. That money will cover the cost of transporting the waste to the Golden Sunlight Mine in Whitehall.
Mine waste from the site contaminates Soda Butte Creek, which extends into the park and eventually joins the Lamar River. Authorities worry a flood or large earthquake could send a torrent of toxic water down the stream into Yellowstone, killing fish along the way.
The state said it expects to remove a half-million tons of contaminated waste. A portion will be transported to a commercial mine to recover gold that remains in the tailings.
The state expects the cleanup to cost about $24 million.
“We aren’t doing it for the money as much as we are for getting the contaminated tailings away from Yellowstone National Park,” said DEQ Director Richard Opper.
He said it is the first time the state agency has reclaimed and sold gold from old mining waste.
The agency is holding an information meeting on the cleanup next Tuesday in Cooke City.
Opper said the project could take six years to complete, and if the price of gold remains high, more of the waste could eventually be transported away from the park for processing.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to eliminate pollution from one of the country’s most beloved and beautiful recreation areas,” Opper said.
Waste that isn’t processed offsite will be placed in a repository built on a property adjoining the site.
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