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Kennecott Utah Copper Corporation, Salt Lake county, Utah North Zone Wetlands NRDA Settlement, Lakepoint Wetlands Restoration
Background: The North Zone Wetlands are located near a smelting, refinery and mill tailings impundment facility operated by Kennecott Utah Copper Corporation (KUCC), on a narrow strip of land between the north end of the Oquirrh Mountains and the south shore of the Great Salt Lake, west of Salt Lake City, Utah. (View the location map.) The wetlands are fed by a series of springs that are forced to the surface at the base of the Oquirrhs, and provide foraging and nesting habitat to a wide variety of shorebirds, waterfowl, terrestrial birds, and other wildlife species. Mining operations in the area (known as the “North End”) first began in the early 1900’s and have included a wide variety of mineral processing operations including ore crushing and leaching, electrolytic refining and processing of ores, and numerous storage units for waste rock, tailings, slag and process water. Operations at the facility up through approximately the early 1990’s resulted in numerous and/or ongoing releases of hazardous substances including the metals selenium, copper, arsenic, lead, zinc, and cadmium into soils around the facility and directly or indirectly into a groundwater aquifer underlying the facility. These releases resulted in the contamination of the springs supplying the North Zone wetlands with these metals, resulting in injuries to natural resources including migratory birds and their supporting ecosystem. Of the metals, selenium was of the most concern to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) because of its mobility in water, bioaccumulation potential in both aquatic plants and invertebrates, and relatively high toxicity to birds. Under a series of voluntary cleanup agreements under the Comprehensive Emergency Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State of Utah Department of Environmental Quality (UDEQ), KUCC began remediation of the North Zone facilities in the mid-1990’s, completing cleanup at the North Zone Wetlands in 2003. Because of the importance of the North Zone wetlands to migratory birds, the Service was an active stakeholder in remedial decision-making at the site. As it became apparent that remedial actions would not fully address natural resource restoration in the North Zone Wetlands, the Service informed KUCC of its intention to pursue a Natural Resources Damage (NRD) claim for these injuries. In response, KUCC expressed their desire to participate in a cooperative NRD Assessment and NRD Settlement.