April 18, 2014 - 10:06
     
Glenn Springs bearing goal for cleanup
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As part of the Miner’s Homecoming celebration, Glenn Springs Holdings held van tours of the cleanup area in the Copper Basin.
As part of the Miner’s Homecoming celebration, Glenn Springs Holdings held van tours of the cleanup area in the Copper Basin. GSH has worked to clean up the former red hills of the Basin for more than 13 years, and the project in nearing its goals.
GSH has spent nearly $130 million on the cleanup, but does not generate money itself. It is a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, which purchased Cities Service, a former owner of the copper mining operation, on Dec. 3, 1982. By the time Oxy bought Cities Service, the mining operations had been sold to Tennessee Chemical Company, which later declared bankruptcy. As a result, Cities Service, and thus Occidental, was the only company left to take responsibility for the environmental problems created early in the 20th century.
Glenn Springs was created by Oxy in the early 1990s to manage the environmental remediation of properties once held by Occidental and the lands held by other companies later acquired by Occidental, as is the case in the Basin. GSH works with discontinued operations that no longer make money so Occidental can concentrate on the business side of things. Funding and contributions come from Occidental.
Manager Frank Russell explained to tour-goers both the process of cleanup and the processes formerly used in the mining operations that left the area in the shape it was in. He said the state and the EPA reviewed everything they were doing, and safety issues were dealt with first. Open cave areas were fenced with six miles of fencing around 5 mines that are patrolled to keep people safe.
During the tour, Russell told visitors a prospector from Dahlonega, Georgia found pyrite (fool’s gold) in the area in 1842. Geologists later saw color in the water that indicated ore of some sort and the copper was found. At that time, the copper was 40-60% pure; by the end of the mining operation, it was ½% pure.
Because the ore was up to 40% sulphur, Russell explained, it was decided to burn the sulfur out before carrying it out in order for it to weigh less. Timber was cut and would burn for months at a time in the “roast yards.” By 1870, 32,000 acres of land were stripped of timber for the process. When water mixed with the sulphur particles from the burning, all the other vegetation was destroyed as well. Roast yards were used until 1904 and were all located near water.
Certain areas of contaminated land have been covered with dirt. 5 acres of contaminated land were condensed to three, then covered with dirt. As long as those areas are not near water, they pose no risk. Trees that were cut to haul dirt have been placed in the grasslands in order to encourage critters into the area. Birds, rabbits, ducks, and other critters have returned to the area.
The first effort at re-vegetation started in 1939. The land eroded until that time. Since they began the cleanup, GSH has spent $17 million in tree-planting alone. Russell said pines had been planted and hardwoods are also now coming out. Black Alder trees have been planted along the streams because they grow quickly and encourage bugs, which brings fish.
Water treatment plants in the cleanup area pump 500 gallons of water per minute. Clean water is taken to streams and French drains are used to move contaminated water to the treatment plants. Diversions were created to keep clean water from commingling with contaminated water.
Treatment of Davis Mill and North Potato Creeks has resulted in improvements to the Ocoee River. Clean water from Belltown Creek and gypsum pond goes into the river. $7 million has been spent on the Davis Mill Creek watershed. 1600 pounds of sulfuric acid has been removed and 9000 pounds of metals are removed a day – all of which once went directly into the river. Only clean water goes into the Ocoee now.
A final use plan was required as part of the cleanup effort. According to Russell, a plan was submitted to and approved by the state to create hiking and biking trails through the property since the county’s main industry is recreation. He said they were trying to get TWRA to help manage the property once that phase arrives and the land ownership will eventually be turned over to the Ducktown Basin Museum.
Russell said he hoped the area could be open to the community some time next year. As part of the cleanup effort, GSH looks to preserve the heritage of the copper mining. At the office in Ducktown, the old photos of the mining operation line the walls and publications about the copper mining history are given away during the yearly festivities.

Editors note: During the van tour of the reclaimed area, several former workers commented on how different things looked and how much change had been brought about. It seemed amazing to them the hills were no longer barren. While visiting the Ducktown Basin Museum on Saturday, a young woman looking out the overlook commented to someone she was with that she could not even imagine the land not being covered in green. It seems it’s all about time and perspective.


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