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From left to right, U.S. EPA staff member John Hillenbrand and EPA Regional Administrator Mike Stoker survey the Trinity River near Copper Bluff Mine with Ken Norton, Director of the Hoopa Tribal Environmental Protection Agency, and Mark Higley, Tribal Wildlife Biologist. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — Contributed)

The defunct Cooper Bluff Mine in the Hoopa Valley area could be added to the Superfund program’s National Priorities List, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday.

“Though the Copper Bluff Mine closed decades ago, it is still affecting the Trinity River, the Hoopa Valley Tribe and the tribal fishery,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Mike Stoker in a statement. “Proposing the site for inclusion on the National Priorities List is an important step towards cleaning up this toxic legacy.”

Norton visited the area in the past few months as part of the investigation into whether the site should be listed as a Superfund cleanup site. Acid mine drainage has been flowing into the Trinity River since the mine closed, affecting the tribe’s fishery.

“The mine tunnels that were historically dug into the hillside to allow transport of materials now allow mine waste, or acid mine drainage, to flow more rapidly out of the mine and into the Trinity River,” the EPA’s supporting documents state.

The Cooper Bluff Mine is located off state Route 96 and was in operation from 1928 to 1964 for mining copper, zinc, silver and gold. Ore from the mine would get processed at the nearby Celtor Chemical Works, another location in the Hoopa Valley Tribe’s reservation that was previously declared a Superfund site because of acidic runoff and heavy metal concentrations in the soils.

The Cooper Bluff Mine is one of six sites being considered for the National Priorities List and it is the only site in California being considered.

Hoopa Valley Tribe Environmental Protection Agency Director Ken Norton lauded the proposal Tuesday afternoon.

“We have been waiting 35 to 40 years for this action to happen,” said Norton, noting the tribe began assessing the site in 1981.

Norton said the next step is for the EPA to determine whether the site will be added to the list. If it is added to the list, it opens up funding opportunities to clean up the site.

“There are Superfund sites that cost millions and million of dollars. Those are dealt with over long-term situations,” Norton said. “…  we’re hoping that the remedial activities won’t cost up in the millions. It’s availability of funding. There’s a limited amount of money and there’s very toxic sites out there. If we are listed, (we hope) we fall in the range of what is a doable project.”

Norton believes the Trump Administration is making strides with funding the cleanup of Superfund sites for a simple reason.

“In my personal opinion, it’s because it can demonstrate immediate environmental results,” he said. “You can have a cleanup and they can say ‘we did this and we are taking positive steps to help our environment.’”

He believes there is a very good chance the Copper Bluff Mine will be placed on the list.

“I think the Hoopa site, the Copper Bluff site is a good candidate for remediation,” he said. “I firmly believe it won’t cost millions and millions of dollars to remediate.”

Hoopa Valley Chairman Ryan Jackson did not respond to multiple requests for comment Tuesday.

“In adding these sites to the (National Priorities List), EPA is carrying out one of our core responsibilities to the American people,” said EPA acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “Cleaning up sites that pose risks to public health and the environment is a critical part of our mission and it provides significant health and economic benefits to communities across the country.”

Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.

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