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After nearly 2 decades, EPA proposes plan to clean up toxic copper mining site in Corinth

A grainy black and white photograph shows about 30 men standing and staring at the camera, a few are in top hats, some in overhauls, others where ties and jackets. A man in front is holding a lantern. They're standing in front of land that has been disturbed.
Corinth Historical Society
The Pike Hill Copper Mine in Corinth was designated a Superfund site almost 20 years ago. Now, the EPA finally has a plan — and funding — to clean it up. An undated photograph shows the miners. The man in the white sweater in the in the middle of the photo was the mine's engineer, Harry Hunter. He closed the mine in 1918, then opened a mill in town.

More than a century after being abandoned, a copper mining site in Corinth is the third and final mine site in Vermont slated for cleanup by the federal government.

Mining operations shuttered in 1919, but a 20,000 ton pile of waste filled with metals and sulfides remains on the site, which is leaching sulfuric acid into a nearby waterway

Under the proposed cleanup plan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to collect the waste and place a cap on site. The agency estimates it will cost $18 million.

“A similar clean up was successfully implemented at Elizabeth Mine [in Strafford] and has been designed and is planned for the Ely Mine [in Vershire], and has been done literally at hundreds of sites across the country,” Ed Hathaway, a project manager with the EPA, told residents at a public hearing in Corinth this week.

“The water when tested was acutely toxic, meaning it killed all the fish that were exposed to it.”
Ed Hathaway, EPA

“The water when tested was acutely toxic, meaning it killed all the fish that were exposed to it,” Hathaway said.

But, he said, the pollution is not considered a threat to drinking water.

Some residents say there’s been an obvious impact over the years.

“The brook is orange,” said Carl Demrow, who’s on the Corinth Select Board. “The issue is the leachate. When rainwater combines with all those piles of tailings up there, it pulls all the heavy metals out.”

Others want to leave the mine alone. Many are concerned about the traffic that would come with the cleanup — the EPA wants to move up to 5,000 truckloads of material through town.

“There’s some small impact that we who live here see from this old mine site,” said Brad Caswell, who lives on the road leading up to the mine. “The impact seems small to me — smaller than the impact you’re going to have on your community.”

The site is also home to the largest known population of eastern small-footed bats in the state. The EPA said the clean up won't harm the animals.

The agency is seeking public comment on their plan through Sept. 2. Then, they'll issue a written response.

Lexi Krupp is a corps member for Report for America, a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and regions.

Lexi covers science and health stories for Vermont Public.
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