Lower-priority contaminated sites remain near Ketchikan

A tin shack stands at the site of the Londevan Prospect near Beaver Falls. (Photo by Lim Neimeyer/KRBD)
A tin shack stands at the site of the Londevan Prospect near Beaver Falls. (Photo by Lim Neimeyer/KRBD)

Ryan Sinkey is the boat captain at George Inlet Lodge, close to where South Tongass Highway ends.

His job usually means taking out tourists to catch lunch.

“Mostly we take them up George Inlet about six miles,” Sinkey said, traveling in a skiff up George Inlet near Beaver Falls Cannery. “We pull up some crab pots and look at the crabs that are there. Release the crabs that we don’t want, and then we come back to George Inlet for a crab lunch.”

Former mine site Londevan Prospect is miners in the early 20th century tried to mine for silver and lead, but didn’t find much.

Once on shore, you have to bushwhack through the alders to get to the site.

At the clearing rusted barrels are everywhere, sunken into the ground.

Some are even punctured. Old mining equipment is strewn about. A tin shack still stands.

This is one of 22 contaminated sites the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said still needs to be cleaned up in the Ketchikan-Gateway Borough.

Hazardous chemicals remain in some of those rusted, leaky barrels.

An Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation official said there are about 2,300 contaminated sites in Alaska that still need to be cleaned of petroleum, heavy metals and other contaminants.

Ann Marie Palmieri, who specializes in contaminated mine sites, said mines in Alaska can be difficult to clean up for many reasons.

Rusty barrels sink into the ground at the Londevan Prospect site. (Photo by Liam Neimeyer/KRBD)
Rusty barrels sink into the ground at the Londevan Prospect site. (Photo by Liam Neimeyer/KRBD)

“These (mines) are typically in remote areas,” Palmieri said. “Another issue is that there are high levels of naturally occurring metals in these areas, so differentiating between these metals and contamination can be challenging.”

The DEC discovered the site in 1980. Bureau of Land Management officials last visited in 1998 and determined then that some cleanup needed to happen.

The site has been sitting untouched since then.

One reason cleanup can take so long is some contaminated sites in the borough are determined to have less risk of spreading contamination and hurting people or wildlife.

DEC Contaminated Sites Program director John Halverson said sites like these have lower priority compared with more dangerous sites.

“Those do tend to end up sitting unfortunately for an extended period of time and not being addressed because the state doesn’t have resources to do cleanup on those if there are higher priority projects that we’re trying to deal with,” Halverson said.

DEC’s job is to identify these contaminated sites and hold the landowner responsible for the cleanup.

Sometimes it’s a private owner who’s responsible. Other times it’s a federal agency. But who the landowner is can be unclear.

DEC in its database lists the longitude and latitude of the Londevan Prospect site on U.S. Forest Service land.

The U.S. Forest Service claims the site is on private land.

Many thousands of dollars in cleanup is at stake.

U.S. Forest Service Spokesman Paul Robbins does point to the success of cleanup at the former Mahoney Mine site just north of the Londevan Prospect.

The mine is on Forest Service land, and lead was last removed from the soil in 2008.

Testing shows elevated levels of lead are still at the Mahoney Mine, and wildlife is recovering.

“What we saw was a variety of plants, spruces, alders and blueberries have taken root and are proliferating,” Robbins said. “So that’s an example of closures, actions being effective.”

Robbins said just like any agency, there’s only so much manpower and funding at the forest service to deal with lower-priority contaminated sites.

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