State of Our Watersheds: Former mining roads threaten treaty resources

Former mining roads in the upper South Fork Sauk River watershed continue to pose a threat to tribal treaty resources, according to the State of Our Watersheds Report.

In 2009 the U.S. Forest Service and Washington Department of Ecology were awarded $11 million dollars as part of an ASARCO bankruptcy agreement, to fund the cleanup of the Monte Cristo Mining Area.

The mine is close to the South Fork Sauk River, and legacy sediments pose downstream risks to human and ecological health from exposure to high levels of hazardous substances, particularly arsenic. Of concern in the South Fork Sauk River are the water quality impacts to bull trout and steelhead, as both spawn in the area and both are federally listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.


Some of the funded work has progressed.

A new access road for the site was completed the summer of 2014. USFS conducted three Removal Actions in summer 2015: construction of the contaminated materials storage site, removal of remote site material by helicopter, and removal of road-accessed materials by truck. As part of the USFS-implemented Removal Action, Washington State Department of Ecology (WAECY) had a public comment period for plan review in May and June of 2015, and also worked with the private property owners to obtain access to some of the Removal Area sites.

However, the old road, under the jurisdiction of Snohomish County, has been closed, but not decommissioned or put to bed.

The old county road has a large landslide and a bridge that presents chronic, costly problems for the South Fork Sauk River and Tribal fishery interests. The Sauk-Suiattle Tribe would like USFS and WAECY to emphasize to Snohomish County that the old road be decommissioned. If it is not put to bed by the county, the South Fork Sauk would then have roads on either side of it, a condition that the Tribe finds unacceptable.

Learn more about the 2016 State of Our Watersheds report.