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Solar array now sits on old Elizabeth mining site

The site once offered a valuable resource, and now its doing that again.
Published: Oct. 11, 2021 at 8:56 AM EDT
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STRAFFORD, Vt. (WCAX) - After $90 million and 20 years, the Environmental Protection Agency is now ready to begin to phase out of the Elizabeth Copper Mine site in South Strafford.

The site once offered a valuable resource, and now it’s doing that again.

“Overall, I think we feel good about this cleanup, we’ve put a lot into it,” said Edward Hathaway, the project manager with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Hathaway has been on the Elizabeth Copper Mine cleanup site since day one in 2001. He says this was no easy project.

“So we had this large-scale problem that needed to be solved, addressed,” said Hathaway.

Everything from a failing dam holding back several million cubic yards of toxic material, to lead contamination at certain sites, Hathaway says it was all solved and not just bandaged, but overhauled to the base and fixed.

Hathaway says now it’s about choosing new uses.

“The only remaining activities are to make sure there are land-use restrictions in place because we welcome reuse but it has to be reuse compatible with the site. We have made such an investment in this site, we have made such an investment in this site, not only an investment to achieve the environmental and health outcome but a financial investment and we don’t want to see that degraded,” said Hathaway.

Results are already noticeable.

“The west branch of the Ompompanoosuc River has been removed from the impaired waters list,” said Hathaway.

Hathaway estimates about eight acres of what was toxic wetland, is now 15 acres of healthy wetlands.

The dangerous dam threatening local waterways and homes was filled with almost 700,000 cubic yards of material. It now safely holds a 20,000-panel solar field above it.

“It’s contributing tax revenue as well as green energy to Vermont, and it’s essentially repurposing,” said Hathaway.

The rest of the site is meant to be functional.

Spots are set to install historical informational panels and talks are underway for other local passive recreational opportunities on the revived site.

As the feds roll out, it’s a handoff to the state for safe long-term care.

“Our major responsibly for operation and maintenance is to make sure structures EPA built are maintained,” said John Schmeltzer, with Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.

Schmeltzer’s department is now tasked with everything from mowing to general maintenance. He says they’re ready.

Now, a site that once offered natural resources gets to do it again thanks to the collaboration with the towns, private landowners and federal and state agencies.

“This is something that I think everyone involved in this project should be proud of,” said Schmeltzer.

“It’s a great feeling, and it’s a little bit of like, wow, I like it here, it’s a beautiful site, it’s a great community and a great team,” said Hathaway.

Hathaway says over the next few months, federal workers will pull all of their stuff out. By year’s end, local leaders should be functionally in charge of the site.

And one year from now, it should be entirely in the state’s hands, besides checks every five years.

Hathaway also says they get to look at sites like the Ely Mine and Pike Hill Mine but neither has made the list of priority sites for the EPA.

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