|LINGERING EFFECTS OF THE PAST|
GILMORE HISTORY SUBJECT OF ATTENTION 5-9-16 LMS
The town site of Gilmore located south of Leadore and to the west of Highway 28 is a part of the valley’s mining-based historic past. The mining activity flourished from the 1880’s to the 1930’s on over 60 patented mining claims. The ore’s transportation link was the Gilmore & Pittsburg railroad which closed in 1939. The town of Gilmore was deserted by 1965. Ores mined in Gilmore included lead, silver, copper, zinc and gold.
In recent years real estate interest in the old town site and surrounding properties has been rekindled and because of its mining history, development of residential dwellings has sparked the attention of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Idaho State Department of Health and Welfare (H&W).
On Monday, May 9, representatives from the DEQ and Department of Health and Welfare met with the Lemhi County Commissioners to discuss efforts and plans being made to determine the amount of residual lead left behind by mining activities of past residents and how to best assist the present land owners.
Boise based Dana Swift, of the DEQ’s office of Waste Management and Remediation, said the agency wants to provide Gilmore land owners with an opportunity to have the surface soils on their property sampled and tested for metals. She said the overall concern is that many of the old town sites associated with abandoned mines contain high levels of metals in the soils and, because many parcels of property in Gilmore are for sale, the agencies want to be proactive and let people know of any safety concerns. Areas of special agency interest feature tailings from where a gold mill was situated as well as contamination within the town site itself.
She said the DEQ first looked at abandoned Gilmore mine sites in 2010 then again in 2015 and has developed maps showing the area’s old mine sites as well as boundaries of over 168 land parcels. Other color coded maps show the locations of Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and state of Idaho owned lands as well as potential land developments. During the 2015 visit the amount of recreational use was noted along with some building activity and signs advertising building lots for sale.
Commissioner Chairman John Jakovac asked how much higher were the levels recorded compared to levels that occur naturally in that area. Swift said normal background readings in the vicinity show around 140 parts of lead per million. Preliminary detection of metals readings, taken along roads in the town site and up towards Meadow Lake, show concentrations that might well indicate a health issue. She said that EPA’s (Environmental Protection Agency) level-of-concern for soil is 400 parts per million. To the north of town they recorded concentration readings of lead at from 19,000 to 25,000 parts per million. Swift said it is an area they really want to study.
Water wells are not a concern at this point due to the fact the two that have been drilled are 300 feet deep.
Jim Vannoy is the Environmental Health Program Manager for the State Department of Health and Welfare. Craig Dietrich is the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Toxicologist.
Dietrich commented that of course lead is a nationwide concern and that awareness is high due to the problems in Flint, Michigan. He said there is no safe level of lead, especially for children. He said the body looks at lead the same way it looks at calcium and treats it the same. Because of the similarity the body is fooled into letting the lead take the place of the calcium so vital for growth.
According to Dietrich recreational exposure is usually less than residential exposure however with the popularity of off road dirt biking, children can be at risk from the dust. He said that’s where the importance of education comes in.
Dietrich said in adults lead can cause mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. As to how long it takes lead to leave the body he said about half of it leaves in a month and as long as there is no further exposure, levels continue to drop. Dietrich said a lot of information is available through the Department of Health and Welfare.
Commissioner Rick Snyder asked; what impacts the Gilmore situation will have on private property owners and recreationists, what plans are there for mediation and what are the plans to inform the public.
Vannoy showed photos of an informational sign that will be placed in Gilmore courtesy of the BLM. It is felt the signs will help inform the many visitors to the historic area. He said no one wants people not to recreate but the agencies do want people to be aware of any possible safety issues. He said that with a goal of public awareness they would be more than happy to provide health education presentations. Vannoy commended historian Hope Benedict for all her property owner communication efforts and coordination of the sign project.
BLM Salmon Field Office Manager Linda Price was in attendance and told the group the sign is ready and the BLM will provide the installation labor. Vannoy agreed that most visitors are transient and if there is a need for more signs they will work with the BLM and others to make and place them.
Snyder inquired as to how the situation will affect current private property owners.
Swift said DEQ has funding to perform assessments of abandoned mine sites on any lands not owned by the federal government. She said there are presently around 75 private land owners in that area and as part of a volunteer program the DEQ will offer to collect soil samples on their property then send the samples to a laboratory for analysis. Included in the invitation to participate in the program will be some health and safety information plus information to give owners a better understanding of what is going on.
Jakovac asked what the DEQ’s long term plans are for Gilmore.
Rob Hanson, Mine Waste Program Manager for the DEQ, told him that won’t be known until all the data is collected. Hanson said once data is confirmed it will have an impact on property owners as far as disclosure laws are concerned. Hanson said depending on the results there are easy ways and there are more complex ways to treat the contamination.
Snyder asked if property owners might be forced into cleaning up the contamination. Hanson’s response was, “That’s a really good question.” He said the state doesn’t have a program or the resources to clean up properties so it’s going to take coordination with multiple agencies such as the BLM and Idaho Department of Lands, the DEQ, Health and Welfare, and Lemhi County to pool resources and figure out how to solve the problem. He added that at this point there is no definition of the problem. Once it has been defined they will determine how deep the contamination is, how best to remove it and what are the risks involved.
In answer to a fear people won’t be allowed to visit an historic site Benedict said that is not the intention. She said the whole indication is they want people to still enjoy the area and at the same time to be educated. Benedict said, “Those of us who own property there…this gives us the opportunity to learn what level of lead concentration is on our property and then, if we can, work with these different groups to have it removed. I don’t think there is any sort of force here in terms of making us do anything or keeping people out.” She said the most important thing is keeping the property owners informed which the soon to be installed sign will help to do.
Hanson said the difference between Gilmore and other historic mine sites is that people are moving in and wanting to live there which changes the types of exposure and makes it a different story. He said the agencies are wanting to get in front of the situation and alert people to a potential risk.
Swift said they have not begun to contact all the land parcel owners as yet. She said they wanted to inform the county first so the commissioners will be prepared for questions.
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