Neighbor report triggers environmental inquiry
By Gwendolyn Craig
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include new information provided by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. It also corrects the flow of Thirteenth Brook.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation is investigating how a brook near Barton Mines turned grayish brown on July 7 in the Town of Johnsburg, and is working with the company “to facilitate increased erosion and sediment controls measures at the facility.” The DEC said there is no public health threat.
A nearby resident noticed the water discoloration in a tributary, Brown Pond Brook, which receives stormwater runoff from the garnet mining operation. The brook, according to Barton Mines records, contains native brook trout. It also converges into wetlands under Adirondack Park Agency jurisdiction and outflows into Thirteenth Brook.
The resident shared photos of the muddied waters with the Adirondack Explorer and the department, and filed a complaint with the DEC’s spill response team. The photos were also shared with Barton Mines.
In a spill report, the DEC reported an unknown amount of an unknown material affected the surface water of the brook and Thirteenth Lake. The DEC had more information available on Friday after the Explorer published its original story. The department said “(t)here was evidence of turbid discharges caused by Friday’s rain event but there were no structural failures at the facility. Any increased sediment to Brown Pond Brook appears to have occurred for a short duration following the rain event.”
“DEC is evaluating the information gathered during the two site visits and additional information requested from the facility to determine if additional action is necessary,” the DEC added.
Bernard Melewski, an attorney representing Barton Mines, said the resident alleged the company’s stormwater infrastructure had failed. In a phone interview on Wednesday, Melewski said the claims were inaccurate and a DEC inspection found nothing wrong. Barton also checked its infrastructure and found all systems working, he added.
“As Shakespeare would say, ‘much ado about nothing,’” Melewski said.
Melewski said he did not know what may have caused the discoloration. There were heavy rains that day, he said, and any number of things on Ruby Mountain, where Barton gets its garnet, could have rushed down into the brook. A beaver dam could have broken in the upstream wilderness area, he added.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they make recommendations on improving the driveway or something like that,” Melewski said of the DEC. “But the allegation (that the stormwater infrastructure failed) isn’t accurate.”
Barton Mines has operated at Ruby Mountain since 1982. It is applying for an Adirondack Park Agency and DEC permit to expand the life of the mine for approximately 75 years. The APA issued a second notice of incomplete application in June. Melewski said the company is working on its response.