To fulfill their obligations under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the northern region (Region 1) of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Montana State Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) desire to identify and characterize the abandoned and inactive mines with environmental, health, and/or safety problems that are on or affecting National Forest System lands and BLM lands. The northern region of the USFS administers National Forest System lands in Montana and parts of Idaho and North Dakota while the Montana State Office of the BLM administers BLM land in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Meanwhile, the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology (MBMG) collects and distributes information about the geology, mineral resources, and ground water of Montana.
Consequently, the USFS, the BLM, and MBMG determined that an inventory and preliminary characterization of abandoned and inactive mines in Montana would be beneficial to all three agencies, and have entered into a series of participating agreements to accomplish this work.
The MBMG objectives also included gathering new information on the economic geology and hydrogeology associated with these abandoned and inactive mines. Enacted by the Legislative Assembly of the State of Montana (Section 75-607, R.C.M., 1947, Amended) the scope and duties of the MBMG include "...the collection, compilation, and publication of information on Montana's geology, mining, milling, and smelting operations, and ground water resources; investigations of Montana geology emphasizing economic mineral resources and ground-water quality and quantity."
For the purposes of this study, mines, mills, or other processing facilities related to mineral extraction and/or processing are defined as abandoned or inactive as follows:
— A mine is considered abandoned if there are no identifiable owners or operators for the facilities, or if the facilities have reverted to federal ownership.
— A mine is considered to be inactive if there is an identifiable owner or operator of the facility, but the facility is not currently operating and there are no approved authorizations or permits to operate.
In 1992, the USFS and MBMG entered into the first of these agreements to identify and characterize abandoned and inactive mines on or affecting National Forest System lands in Montana. In 1993, the BLM and MBMG entered into a similar agreement to identify and characterize abandoned and inactive mines on or affecting Bureau of Land Management administered lands in Montana. The objectives of this discovery process were as follows:
— Utilize a formal, systematic program to identify the "Universe" of sites with possible human health, environmental-, and/or safety-related problems that are either on or affecting Federal lands.
— Identify the human health and environmental risks at each site based on site-characterization factors, including screening-level soil and water data that have been taken and analyzed in accordance with EPA quality control procedures.
— Based on site-characterization factors, including screening-level sample data where appropriate, identify those sites that are not affecting Federal lands, and can be eliminated from further consideration.
— Cooperate with other State and Federal agencies, and where possible, integrate the programs.
— Develop and maintain a database of site information that will allow the USFS and the BLM to proactively respond to governmental and public interest group concerns.
The abandoned-inactive mines database contains over 8,000 records and includes several data tables that include information on location (latitude/longitude and cadastral), ownership (as determined from 1:24,000-scale maps, GPS, or other sources), office and field screening results, and water/soil sampling (sample-ID, location, and field parameters). The water- and soil-sample results are stored in the MBMG Ground-Water Information Center (GWIC) database and are related by site-ID. Site-ID numbers for sites obtained from other databases are maintained in the MBMG database; however, all other information obtained from other databases is subject to review and correction.
The initial screening of sites consists of obtaining an accurate location, determining the ownership of the site, assessing the relationship of the site to USFS or BLM land, and assessing the potential impact of sites on or affecting Federal land.