Public access to Monte Cristo very early this season will be possible until access road work shuts it down for safety reasons. At our Winter Social February 1 the Forest Service explained that finishing their new route from the Mowich crossing below Barlow Pass on the Darrington side to its junction with the existing county road near the base of Hap’s Hill (m.p. 2 on the county road) remains to be done. That primarily consists of laying permanent decking on the first of its three long stringer bridges, then construction of the remaining two.
No timetable was given, as their starting date will depend upon snow and soil conditions, along with contractor agreements and arrival of the log stringers.
Until the bridges are done, hikers and bikers will be able to utilize the existing county road. When access ends, there is a possibility that the public will be able to go as far as Twin Bridges and the Gothic Basin trailhead, but that has yet to be decided. We will post the information as soon as it becomes available.
There are other undecided issues. One is how Glacier Creek will be crossed temporarily for equipment to reach the United Companies’ concentrator and other nearby contaminated sites. A second includes final determination of the size and boundaries of the hazardous materials repository. This will be located at the railway switchback below town next to the start of private property and was tested for suitability in 2013.
A new point is the possibility that the removal may be extended into 2015. One option being discussed is to focus on the townsite locations this summer, then the mines in the Jackson Wilderness next year. This would result in a larger capacity two-cell repository rather than one, as each must be permanently sealed at the end of a working season.
Cascade Earth Sciences of Spokane Valley is the prime contractor for the cleanup. They expect the Palm Construction Co. of Winthrop to return as the road and removal subcontractor. Their workers’ camp recreational vehicles will be located near the end of the county road below the Monte Cristo campground and may also utilize neighboring private land. Cultural resources subcontractor is ASM Affiliates of Stanwood, which will have on-site observation and monitoring to reduce damage to physical remains and artifacts. They already have been working to protect the old Sauk River wagon road.
Access to the Rainy mine, which is on the right bank of Glacier Creek upstream from the concentrator, will require construction of a temporary road to its portal and tailings pile. This is across the creek from the Pride/Mystery terminal and bunkers on the townsite side, also slated for cleanup.
STATE CLEANUP ALSO CONTINUES
Overseeing the federal cleanup to ensure it meets state laws, the Washington State Department of Ecology also is conducting its own studies and monitoring plan. For the past several years its teams have been conducting field research to evaluate the project’s effect on terrestrial and aquatic life forms, including plants and insects this past summer. Aquatic work is just beginning. Its area extends downstream below Monte Cristo Lake almost to Elliott Creek. Background and site sampling have been going on to establish base lines for comparison as materials are exposed, removed, and replaced with covering and new plantings. Monitoring by both agencies is expected to last for decades. Meanwhile, their first lab results are expected in late spring.