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Background: The French Gulch Mine Site is located near the town of Breckenridge in Summit County, Colorado. The site is located approximately 2.2 miles upstream, east of the confluence of French Gulch and the Blue River. The French Gulch valley includes several abandoned mine and mill sites, the largest of which was the Wellington-Oro mining complex. The French Gulch NRDA case refers to three abandoned hard rock mine sites located near the town of Breckenridge in Summit County, Colorado. These three sites include the Wellington Oro Mine, the Jesse Mine and Mill, and the IXL/Royal Tiger Mine and Mill.
The Wellington Oro, Jesse, and IXL/Royal Tiger mines and mills were owned by the same group of responsible parties. These mines produced gold, silver, lead, copper, and zinc from the late 1800s to the early 1930s. Mine wastes exist both above and below ground and consist of exposed pyritic rock, that have contaminated groundwater continue to release environmental contaminants (metals) to surface waters at concentrations that are toxic to aquatic organisms. Downstream of the Wellington Oro Mine, fish are largely absent and aquatic invertebrates are severely limited. Fish and invertebrate populations remain limited downstream of the confluence of French Gulch with the Blue River. Studies to conclusively determine adverse impacts to migratory birds from mine site-related environmental contaminants have not been conducted; however ecological risks indicating significant potential injury to migratory birds, their prey and forage bases, and the in-stream, riparian, and wetlands habitats that support them were identified in the ecological risk assessment for this site performed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Wellington Oro site is being addressed by EPA as a non-time critical removal action pursuant to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The other two sites are being remediated under the State of Colorado Brownfields voluntary cleanup program. Although the Wellington Oro removal action, which resulted in construction and operations of a water treatment facility, is expected to improve water quality of the mine discharge, future water quality in French Gulch and a portion of the Blue River are still expected to exceed aquatic toxicity benchmarks.
The United States and the State of Colorado reached an agreement in 2005 to settle the liabilities of the responsible parties, under the CERCLA, the Clean Water Act, and the Colorado Water Quality Control Act, pursuant to a Settlement Agreement and Consent Decree. Among other things, the Consent Decree addresses damages for injury to, destruction of and loss of natural resources, including fish, migratory birds, other wildlife, and their habitats, resulting from the release of hazardous substances. The DOI received $165,000 for the NRDA restoration settlement. As described in this FONSI, the Trustees have elected to use NRDA settlement funds for habitat restoration and enhancement implementation.