Division of Spill Prevention and Response

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Former Utica Mine


Incident location map. Summary Date: June 2006

View detailed information from database on this site.
Former Utica Mine arrow

Status: Active Database Name: Former Utica Mine
Location: near Deering, Alaska Latitude/Longitude See database entry
DEC Contaminated Sites Contact: Jeff Brownlee, Project Manager - 907-269-3053

Map of the former Utica mine area

Map of the Utica Mine area on the Inmachuk River,
18 miles upriver from Deering on the Seward Peninsula.

Description


The former Utica gold mine began operation in approximately 1903 along the Inmachuk River south of what is now the community of Deering. Located on Kotzebue Sound at the mouth of the Inmachuk River, Deering is 57 miles southwest of Kotzebue. The village was established in 1901 as a supply station for Interior gold mining near the historic Malemiut Eskimo village of Inmachukmiut.


Over 75 years, hydraulic and dredge mining occurred along a seven-mile length of the river until about 1980, when GEM Exploration, Inc. abandoned the site. NANA Regional Corporation acquired the land and mine in 1991 through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971.


In 2005 DEC conducted a DEC Brownfield Assessment

(DBA) at the request of the Northwest Arctic Borough with the intent of providing pertinent environmental information to help in their consideration of the old mining camp as a potential future tourist destination. Sampling results from the assessment at the Utica gold mine indicated elevated levels of metals, particularly mercury, lead, cadmium and arsenic in soil.



Public Health and Environmental Concerns

 

The primary contaminants of concern are heavy metals, notably mercury. Mercury concentrations in surface soil were as high as 125 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg), well above the 1.4 mg/kg cleanup level. Bioavailability of the mercury is not known at this time. Secondary concerns are associated with historical use, storage, and disposal of petroleum products. Solvents, diesel and heavier petroleum products have been observed in buildings and at the dumpsites.


The Inmachuk River is used for drinking water and as a hunting and fishing subsistence resource by residents of Deering. Both trout and grayling overwinter in the river.

 


Current Status


Four main camp sites were identified along the river. The Utica camp includes standing buildings typical of remote camp facilities. A vehicle maintenance shop, an assay lab, storage and housing units were also identified. Four dump sites associated with this camp have also been observed. Since the site is occasionally visited by hunters, DEC is working with the landowner to place warning signs on buildings with potential human health risks.


DEC engaged the Department of Law to clarify who has liability and responsibility for cleanup. Alaska law generally places liability on the current landowner, even if they did not cause the contamination, unless another responsible entity can be found. In this case, responsibility is complicated by land transfer, federal and state abandoned mine law, and the history of mining operations. See database entry (link at top) for more information on this site.

 


Utica camp buildings

Utica camp buildings, June 2005

Building 17

Building #17. A sample taken outside this building had
high levels of mercury, lead and arsenic.

Building 19

Building #19. A sample taken inside this building had high levels of
arsenic, cadmium, chromium, silver, lead and mercury.