8/14/2013 10:40:00 AM Iron King Mine soil deemed not hazardous 1,600 yards ends up at Prescott Valley construction site
Clayton Kuhles stands near the Glory Hole on his property at the Iron King Mine in this photo taken in 2009. Kuhles recently excavated soil from his property that ended up in Prescott Valley and had people concerned about arsenic and lead contamination.
File photo/Sue Tone
When people heard soil from the Iron King Mine Superfund site in Dewey-Humboldt wound up on a construction site in Prescott Valley, they were concerned it might be the contaminated soil from the tailings pile.
In addition, Clayton Kuhles, with Kuhles Capital, Inc., allowed the soil excavation on his Iron King Mine property without acquiring the necessary permit, in violation of Town of D-H code.
Scientists with the Environmental Protection Agency, the federal agency overseeing the Superfund site, tested the soil at the construction site and determined it contained higher arsenic and lead levels than in native soil, but not high enough to pose "an unacceptable acute health threat."
Kim Moon, PV Capital Projects coordinator, said, after reviewing the test results, the town feels comfortable with the soils that have been imported.
Kuhles, owner of property that sits within the boundaries of the Iron King Mine and Humboldt Smelter Superfund site, applied for a grading permit with Dewey-Humboldt on May 22 to excavate and sell soil from near the Glory Hole on the former mine. The town has yet to issue a permit, which is still with Jack Judd, building official with Yavapai County, with whom D-H contracts for its application process.
Nevertheless, a contractor hired by Kuhles dug up and exported what EPA officials said looks to be 10,000 cubic yards of soil. About 1,600 cubic yards ended up at a construction site on Greg Drive off Yavapai Road in Prescott Valley.
Kuhles said his contractor removed only the 1,600 cubic yards of soil. He also stated in a phone call Monday evening that the contract agreement he has with his contractor states that the contractor is responsible for acquiring the grading permit, which the contractor did. Kuhles did not want to divulge the name of the contractor, and later said the contractor was still working with the town to get the permit.
"You apply for a grading permit to export a certain amount," Kuhles explained. "When you get a grading permit, it's for a specific geographic location as well as the amounts - what you take and where you take it."
Judd said his department has reviewed Kuhles' application a couple of times, and sent out letters for clarification. The latest letter went out two weeks ago, Judd said, and he has not received anything back. One issue the plan examiners had with the application was the amount of soil Kuhles planned to export.
"We're trying to determine the volume that was exported and where it ended up," Judd said, adding that Kuhles cannot do any further excavation until he has obtained a permit.
EPA does not have authority to issue permits, nor do they certify shipments of soils from Superfund sites as "clean," said EPA Superfund Project Manager Jeff Dhont in an email dated Aug. 1 to Kuhles and PV, D-H and Yavapai County officials.
EPA scientists took samples of the soil from the PV construction site on July 11 and determined that the levels of arsenic and lead would not pose an unacceptable acute health threat. While samples had higher than lead levels found in native Prescott Valley soil, the levels are similar to lead levels existing in native soil in the Humboldt area. Tests on native PV soil found 16 mg/kg lead, while the imported soil tested as high as 89 mg/kg.
Arsenic levels in areas where mining occurs can span a fairly wide range, Dhont said. Samples of native soil at the construction site measured 11 mg/kg arsenic; imported soil from the mine site had levels as high as 81 mg/kg arsenic.
Kuhles also ran soil analyses with similar results, Dhont said.
D-H Town Manager Yvonne Kimball said she became aware of the excavation when an EPA official contacted her saying someone had observed activities at the Iron King Mine site.
"We realized this job proceeded without a permit and we put a stop on that," Kimball said. "Since the unpermitted work ceased immediately upon notification of no permit and the grading application is still technically under discussion, we have not pursued further code violation steps at this time."
Kuhles said he was opposed to the EPA's designation of his property as part of the Superfund site, which totals 335 acres. The clean-up process can take decades, he said.
"That makes it impossible to sell or get a mortgage," he said. "We have to continue to make a living the best way we can. As long as you have the necessary permits, and tests prove that something you're exporting is safe and non-hazardous, there's nothing saying that you can't export and sell it."
Judd said the application remains under review pending receipt of further information from Kuhles.
In 2009, a $71,100 judgment was entered against Kuhles for illegally disposing of asbestos-containing materials and failure to obtain an aquifer protection permit required for solid waste disposal facilities at its Iron King Mine landfill in 2005. Mark Shaffer, communications director with Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, confirmed that Kuhles has not paid the settlement.