Montana Drops Plan to Haul Waste Along Wyoming Highway

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – Montana officials have dropped a plan to haul 69,000 tons of mine waste along a 360-mile route from Cooke City to Whitehall after Wyoming objected to the proposal.

Department of Environmental Quality Director Richard Opper said Tuesday that the waste instead will be processed at an onsite disposal pit near Cooke City.

The removal of the waste is part a five-year, $24 million reclamation project for the McLaren Mine Mill just east of Yellowstone National Park.

The original plan called for extracting remaining gold from the McLaren Mill tailings after they arrive at Whitehall. The sale of that gold would have been to recoup an estimated $5 million in hauling costs.

But the proposed haul route included a stretch along Wyoming’s Chief Joseph Scenic Highway. Elected officials from northern Wyoming worried that an estimated 1,600 to 1,800 truckloads of waste could damage the road and dampen tourism.

The DEQ said weight restrictions recently set by the Wyoming Department of Transportation would have made it difficult to contract out the job.

A revised design for the project calls for deepening a waste pit at the McLaren site to accommodate more mine tailings. That pit already had been slated to receive more than 250,000 tons of tailings, composed of ore that was already processed once for gold.

Waste and tailings contaminated with heavy metals flow from the 30-acre abandoned gold mine site into Soda Butte Creek and eventually the park.

“Fortunately, we were able to engineer a workable solution to dispose of the tailings,” Opper said. “We can now focus on the work that needs to be done, which is to clean up pollution that flows into the park.”

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