Hope Mine cleanup banking on biochar
The former mayor and executive director of Aspen-based For The Forest is teaming up with biochar expert Flux Farm Foundation, based in Carbondale, and the U.S. Forest Service to clean Hope Mine. The abandoned site has large tailings piles containing heavy metals that fan down a steep hillside directly into Castle Creek, one of the two primary sources for Aspen's drinking water.
“The Aspen Water Department has not recorded any increase in dissolved metals at its drinking water plant, which takes water from the creek downstream from the Hope Mine,” a press release announcing the Hope Mine Biochar Reclamation Project said. “For The Forest, Flux Farm and the U.S. Forest Service think the reclamation project will add an extra dimension of safety by stabilizing the tailings slope to avoid the possibility of any future catastrophic event that might dump a large quantity of tailings into Castle Creek all at once.”
More tailings slid closer to the creek during the heavy rainfall in July and August, Bennett noted Wednesday.
The project's organizers main objective is to protect Aspen's water supply by stabilizing the mine tailings with the introduction of biochar and to transform the exposed toxic mine waste site to a stable covering of native grasses and other natural vegetation. They also hope to create a potential market for beetle-killed trees across Colorado and the West by turning the trees into biochar. Another benefit of biochar is that it sequesters carbon in organic materials and over time, environmental scientists say it may reduce the amount of carbon entering the atmosphere.
“This is a great way to take care of an important local environmental concern, create healthier water and forests and work to reduce carbon in the atmosphere,” Bennett said.
For The Forest organizers want to “demonstrate that biochar created from mountain pine beetle-killed trees on Smuggler Mountain and other areas could potentially be used throughout our valley. These trees, if left in the forest, will decompose and emit CO2 into the atmosphere, but if turned into biochar, that CO2 can be sequestered for hundreds or thousands of years,” the press release said.
Other contributors to the environmental cleanup project include Mark Fuller of the Independence Pass Foundation and Dr. Andrew Harley, a soil scientist and leading biochar researcher based in Denver.
“Scientific evidence suggests that biochar from pine trees can greatly improve the soil quality of drastically disturbed soils like those at the Hope Mine,” Flux Farm Executive Director Morgan Williams said. “Our project intends to show, for the first time, that biochar can be successfully used at scale to reclaim a former mine site. This is a big opportunity for Aspen to make a meaningful contribution to the science of biochar.”
Work on the Hope Mine Biochar Reclamation Project will begin Oct. 10 in conjunction with the 10/10/10 Global Work Party engineered by 350.org as part of an international climate change campaign.
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