The Frisco Mill, once dynamited by union activists, is soon to be targeted by bulldozers.
The historic mill site north of Wallace is part of an estimated $1 million, mile-long cleanup project slated for this summer.
The Silver Valley Natural Resource Trustees have identified the site as a major contributor to heavy metals in Canyon Creek, which feeds the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River.
An estimated 75,000 cubic yards of tailings and contaminated materials will be removed from the flood plain and hillside in the narrow canyon, according to the cleanup plan.
The Frisco Mill is upstream from the trustees’ Canyon Creek cleanup project that started in 1995.
The trustees have spent more than $2 million removing contaminated materials, rebuilding the stream and planting trees along Canyon Creek, but the threat of recontamination exists from upstream sources such as the Frisco Mill.
“The feedback we got indicated we need more expansion into the headwaters,” said Marti Calabretta, project coordinator.
Another $1 million will be spent on the lower reaches of Canyon Creek this summer, according to the trustees.
The focus on Burke Canyon stems from water quality sampling over five years that shows it as the biggest source of contamination to the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River.
Prior to cleaning up Canyon Creek, the trustees isolated mine tailings at Elizabeth Park on the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River, and removed tailings from Nine-Mile Creek.
Water quality studies since then indicate that more work needs to be done on both Canyon Creek and Nine-Mile Creek, Calabretta said.
The Natural Resource Trustees manage a fund established by a $4.5 million settlement between the state and mining companies sued for environmental damage.
Mining companies, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Idaho Division of Environmental Quality also are involved in the cleanup activities.
While the focus of the trustees is to remove sources of zinc - which can kill fish - their efforts also remove high concentrations of lead.
A recent environmental health study found that 15 percent of children in the Coeur d’Alene River basin who live outside the Bunker Hill Superfund site have elevated blood lead levels.
Burke Canyon was one area where high blood lead levels were found, according to Jerry Cobb of the Panhandle Health District. But so few children participated in the study, it’s difficult to draw conclusions from it, Cobb said.
The health district hopes to test more children this summer. Lead can cause developmental and other health problems in small children.
The Helena-Frisco mine is just one of many historical mining operations in Burke Canyon. In 1892, the Frisco Mill was dynamited by workers during the labor war. The mill never was rebuilt, although the mine operated off and on until the ‘50s.
The trustees are holding a public information hearing on the Frisco Mill clean-up at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 16, in the Public Safety Building in Wallace. Information also is available at the Wallace Public Library.
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