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Future Uses of Elizabeth Mine Site Considered

Strafford — Dori Wolfe, energy consultant and cofounder of solar energy firm groSolar, thinks the centuries-old Elizabeth Mine would be an ideal site for a solar energy installation.

“The field is green and it’s ready, we can lay those panels on now,” Wolfe said. “It would be excellent to do. Also, if you can get a return on your investment, you win.”

About three dozen interested residents gathered at Barrett Hall this week to toss around ideas for reusing portions of the long-abandoned copper mine, a 1,400-acre Superfund site that has been undergoing a years-long environmental clean-up that is nearing completion.

Selectboard Chairman Steve Willbanks, while pointing at a large map, broke the mine down into sections and explained what portions of land could be used for what projects — if at all.

Given the breadth of the mine, there are opportunities to transform multiple portions of land into different uses. For example, Wolfe proposed the solar installation for Tailings Pile No. 1 and No. 2. Another option for that same 20-acre portion of the mine was a recreation field.

“These are all just possibilities,” Willbanks emphasized.

Other ideas Wednesday were in relation to the southerly portion of the mine, which includes the North Open Cut, the South Open Cut and South Mine. Educational exhibits and interpretive signage were two popular ideas.

Recreational opportunities for the southern portion could include a trail network, Strafford resident John Freitag stated.

No decisions were made last night, but the town moved one step closer by developing a “working group.” Willbanks said he hopes the volunteers can begin meeting before Christmas to further discuss the mine’s future.

The mine is situated on private land and so nothing can be carried out without landowner consent. David Moore and Dick Josler, two of the five direct landowners, both said they weren’t opposed to part of their property becoming public for an educational benefit.

“The clean-up has been going on for 11 years, and its kind of tied up my property as you can imagine,” Josler said Wednesday night. “They improved it a lot, it looks a lot better now.

“I’d like to see something done with it. A lot of our history is there.”

Moore agreed.

“We thought that perhaps the land could be set up as some sort of a historical/educational site or park,” Moore wrote in an email.

Willbanks outlined three ownership possibilities for the land Wednesday night. The first option, he said, was everything stays intact and the current owners keep their property.

Second was municipal ownership. Third was transferring the property to a nonprofit.

One concern expressed — regardless of ownership — was the liability Willbanks described two types of liability — “liability regarding the Superfund issues and the other is liability that you would have with any park area.

“And it remains to be scene whether the town feels comfortable in doing that (taking on the liability),” Willbanks said.

Although Moore and Josler are impartial to turning over their land, John Schmeltzer, state project manager for the mine, said the state was unlikely to buy the property.

“I’m hoping we can do something regardless of if the state owns it or not.” Schmeltzer added, “we have a strict policy for taking property and this does not meet the criteria.”

The federal Environmental Protection Agency declared Elizabeth Mine a Superfund site in 2001 and started cleaning the property two years later after officials discovered sulfuric acid leaking into the West Branch of the Ompompanoosuc River and Copperas Brook.

“The results indicated the presence of metals that exceeded background levels,” the EPA’s website indicated.

The agency most recently finished capping multiple acres of metallic tailings — sulfide ore leftover from copper extraction — a measure taken to reduce the number of contaminates flowing into waterways.

The EPA will continue to clean and monitor aspects of the site for the next few years and once its job is completed, the mine will be shifted to the eyes of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@gmail.com.