After a 12-acre open pit mine closed in 1948 and filled with water, Blue Water Lake & Park incorporated took over the land and turned it into a popular diving spot to teach scuba classes.
“We had training platforms on the bottom, we had lines ram, we had an airplane sitting right down here for the scuba divers to play on. So, it was basically the perfect open water site,” explained John Mueller, Blue Water Lake and Park Incorporated president.
But, 30 years later under the direction of the Environmental Protection Agency, it became a dumping area for mining waste. The EPA planned to use waste from various areas in Oronogo to fill the entire 200-feet-deep mine pit, but later found they did not have enough chat to fill it.
But, that doesn’t meant the project was done incorrectly.
“Bcause when we put the material under water the mine, the lead, zinc, cambium, and different material in the waste actually go through a chemical reaction due to being anaerobic and they bind up and don’t leach anymore. So, there’s not a problem with people using that pit for recreation,” explained EPA Remedial Project Manager Mark Doolan.
With 7,000 acres worth of waste already cleaned up and dumped into the pit, Mueller says the place he once knew as a beautiful scuba diving resort has been torn apart by the EPA.
“While I appreciate the fact of what they were trying to do, I do not think they accomplished it. It just looks in comparison with the way it looked before — this is disgusting,” Mueller explained.
“Most of our land owners have all been extremely happy with the work that we’ve done. We’ve gone into areas that were contaminated with heavy metals and we removed all the mine waste and soil and taken the risk away. Almost all our land owners exclusively have been extremely happy with the clean up work that we’ve done,” said Doolan.
Representatives say it has since become an eyesore for the community and more cleaning needs to be done.
“Personally, I don’t think they could have cared less what they did here. They do not live here. All is they can say is ‘hey we did a good job. We cleaned all the chat off of here and boy, we did such a good job,'” said Mueller.
Doolan says although the pit is not as full as they planned, the area is still safe. He says once they finish removing chat from a different site, that will then be dumped into the pit, completing the project.