Tiffany pays to clean up mines |

Tiffany pays to clean up mines

Paul Foy

AMERICAN FORK CANYON, Utah (AP) – Jewelry maker Tiffany & Co. is helping clean up an old mining district near Snowbird ski resort where heavy concentrations of zinc, lead and arsenic have been washing into streams for more than 80 years.

Tiffany can’t say for certain if it ever used any of the gold and silver taken from these abandoned mines, but executives say it’s possible. Today, part of the Tiffany brand is the fact it takes all of its gold and silver from Utah’s Kennecott mine, about 30 miles and one mountain range to the west of here.

“We want to make sure precious minerals are extracted in a socially and environmentally responsible way,” said Michael Kowalski, chairman and chief executive of New York-based Tiffany, a jewelry maker and retailer since 1837.

Kowalski and other executives traveled rough roads by all-terrain vehicles Tuesday to inspect the results of The Tiffany & Co. Foundation’s $100,000 contribution to a $300,000 cleanup that came about through an unusual partnership.

It’s a project that Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth has said could serve as a template for mining cleanups around the West, where neglect has left nearly half of upper watersheds polluted by mine tailings.

The cleanup was engineered by the conservation group Trout Unlimited. It has crews from Snowbird ski resort driving heavy machinery, with support from Tiffany and federal agencies, who have been cleaning up Forest Service lands around scattered mining parcels.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granted Snowbird a Good Samaritan waiver under the Clean Water Act. That relieved the resort of permanent liability for the mines and allowed a cleanup to proceed.

Snowbird in 1971 inherited a patchwork of mining parcels in national forest land, but left the mine tailings alone. The piles of crushed rock quickly became a playground for off-roaders whose vehicles’ knobby rubber tires kicked up toxic dust.

“This looked like a motocross track on weekends,” Ted Fitzgerald, a retired Forest Service engineer, said outside the abandoned Pacific mine where 35,000 cubic yards of tailings are being consolidated into a pile farther away from a stream.

Fitzgerald, now working for Trout Unlimited, said the tailings pile will be covered with liners, three feet of top soil and seeded with vegetation, burying the heavy metals indefinitely.

“The half-life of this stuff is beyond civilization,” he said.

A mile downstream, the Forest Service spent $1 million a few years ago constructing a larger mining waste repository, keeping it away from American Fork River.

This is potential drinking water for a growing metropolis, said Mandy Manderbach, a mine cleanup coordinator for the Forest Service’s Intermountain Region.

American Fork Canyon rises from Utah’s heavily populated Wasatch Front corridor and was the site of about 100 silver and other mines that operated mostly between 1870 and 1920.

Surveying an upper part of the canyon, Kowalski said he was pleased with the cleanup, which is expected to be completed by month’s end after only four weeks of labor, though it took 2 1/2 years to get government approvals.

On the Net:

Trout Unlimited:

Uinta National Forest:

Tiffany & Co.:

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.