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Case Study as part of a Web-based Technical and Regulatory Guidance

Copper Basin
Polk County, Tennessee

1. Site Information
1.1 Contacts
Carrie L. Stokes, CHMM, PE. (CS #2)
Telephone: 615-252-4343
E-mail: cistokes@bwsc.net

Mark Bowers, CIH (CS #2)
Telephone: 919-552-9675
E-mail: mbowers@nc.rr.com

Ben Faulkner (CS #27)
Telephone: 304-487-2886
E-mail: benbfaulkner@gmail.com

1.2 Name, Location and Description
Copper Basin Mining Site is in the Lower Potato Creek Watershed near Ducktown, Polk County, in southeastern Tennessee near the North Carolina and Georgia borders and comprises an area of approximately 50 square miles adjacent to lands administered by the Cherokee National Forest (Figure 1-1). The Copper Basin, north of the Ocoee River, is drained by North Potato Creek and Davis Mill Creek, which empty into the Ocoee River. The basin has been host to 150 years of copper mining, beneficiation and mineral processing, sulfuric acid, and other chemical production that have left a legacy of environmental degradation. Deep mining was the primary method, with a few surface-mining operations. In addition to mining and related operations, associated support infrastructure (railroads, equipment storage, and other waste processing facilities) can be found throughout the basin. Remnants of these mining practices remain scattered throughout portions of both North Potato Creek and Davis Mill Creek watersheds. The affected media are soil, sediment, surface stream water, surface pool water, and groundwater.

Image-Copper Basin Mining District Figure 1-1
Figure 1-1. Copper Basin Mining District.

The Copper Basin Mining Site (Site) is located in southeastern Tennessee, near the North Carolina and Georgia borders and comprises an area of approximately 50 square miles adjacent to lands administered by the Cherokee National Forest. The Copper Basin, north of the Ocoee River, is drained by North Potato Creek and Davis Mill Creek, which empty into the Ocoee River. The Basin has been host to 150 years of copper mining, beneficiation and mineral processing, sulfuric acid and other chemical production that have left a legacy of environmental degradation. Deep mining was the primary method with a few surface mining operations. In addition to mining and related operations associated support infrastructure (railroads, equipment storage, and other waste processing facilities) can be found throughout the Basin. Remnants of these mining practices remain scattered throughout portions of both North Potato Creek and Davis Mill Creek watersheds. The affected media are soil, sediment, surface stream water, surface pool water and groundwater.

2. Remedial Action and Technologies
The site comprises 50 square miles with acidic waters, providing aluminum, copper, iron, manganese and zinc as the primary contaminant. Secondary contaminants include arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, copper, lead, mercury, selenium, and sulfate. Remedial actions at these sites are overseen and must comply with the Clean Water Act, CERCLA, and the Tennessee Voluntary Cleanup program. The site cleanup goal is mitigation of human health risk and ecological risk in the stream environment and is evaluated using the contaminant concentrations in water.

This large site has used multiple technologies:

Secondary treatment technologies include the following:

3. Performance
Human health criteria are based on 10E-5 cancer risk, noncancer hazard index <1, and blood lead concentrations below protective levels based on IEUBK and/or ALM modeling for future land uses. The ecological criterion is biological integrity in site streams as represented by the benthic macroinvertebrate community. Specific quantitative objectives were established based on bioregion reference streams. Water quality criteria and benchmarks are used to gauge progress and to monitor specific treatment system performance.

4. Costs
Cost of activities:

5. Regulatory Challenges
No significant regulatory barriers have been encountered with technologies applied to date. The Copper Basin project benefits from a strong industry/agency/public stakeholder organization that has helped facilitate the expedited implementation of remedial solutions. Use of biological integrity rather than numerical water quality criteria was a major advance in the application of water quality regulations. It acknowledges the fact that fauna in the Basin may be uniquely adapted to establish health communities even if concentration-based criteria are not met in all cases.

Land use controls will be required upon completion of remedial/restoration activities. This need is primarily associated with waste materials that will remain in place although physical hazards will also affect how the property will ultimately be used.

6. Stakeholder Challenges
The public has participated in the process and has been pleased with progress. Glenn Springs Holdings has worked closely with the public to improve the quality of life, health and human safety, recreational and educational offerings, and property value protection in the historic and unique Copper Basin.

7. Other Challenges and Lessons Learned
An effective industry/regulatory working group has been the key to success. Regular meetings and intervening conference calls and general correspondence built a remarkable amount of credibility and trust between the parties. As a consequence, there has been a willingness on the part of all parties to carefully consider remedial technology proposals, render constructive (rather than antagonistic) feedback, reach decisions quickly and work together to optimize design/implementation strategies which has allowed the project to proceed at a fast pace.

Deed restrictions will limit development in lined and sensitive areas. Five miles of specially constructed fence limits access to mine subsidence areas.

The success of the Copper Basin project is a long and complicated story. It began with industry, academia, and agencies working together to restore vegetation to a uniquely scarred area. Glenn Springs has focused on land restoration and water quality enhancement by employing adaptive management in an iterative approach. Working closely with Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and USEPA, Glenn Springs has used the following general approach: Characterize the drainage and environmental influences, divert unaffected drainage, capture and treat affected drainage, sequester acid-producing materials, mitigate remaining problems with passive systems, and evaluate with biologic indicators.

8. References
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. n.d. “Copper Basin Mining District.” http://www.epa.gov/region4/superfund/sites/npl/tennessee/copbastn.html.

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