The EPA has finished mercury-decontamination efforts at the Red Arrow Gold Corp. mill site on Grand Ave. in Mancos. http://t.co/xJSYnhu4ZS
— DurangoHerald (@DurangoHerald) August 14, 2014
The EPA has finished mercury-decontamination efforts at the Red Arrow Gold Corp. mill site on Grand Ave. in MancosAugust 14, 2014
From The Mancos Times (Mary Shinn):
The Mancos Water Conservancy District board on Thursday weighed the consequences of taking ownership of Jackson Gulch Reservoir, the dam, the canal system and the land it sits on from the federal government.
If the district worked with the Bureau of Reclamation to take ownership, the district would have to take over all the contracting and inspections…
The Bureau of Reclamation currently budgets $160,000 a year to manage the irrigation project, and and $150,000 a year for recreational use of the lake.
Kennedy estimates that if the district did all the work the bureau does for irrigation and water management, it would cost $20,000 to $40,000 because the district wouldn’t have as much administrative overhead. The district doesn’t plan to cover any of Mancos’ state parks expenses if the board pursues the transfer of ownership.
A major question the board members tried to address at the Thursday workshop was: What value does the Bureau of Reclamation add to the project?
They determined it isn’t a reliable source of funding…
If the district took ownership of the project, it would still be subject to some state inspections for dam safety.
Currently, the Bureau of Reclamation does regular inspections, but the district is responsible for maintenance or replacement. For example, the district paid $3 million for the recent rehabilitation project.
There is one exception to the maintenance rule. The Bureau of Reclamation would step in if the dam started to experience a failure. But the agency would also send the district a bill for half the cost, and it would be due in three years…
At an initial meeting about the transfer with James Hess, a bureau representative from Washington, Hess said the transfer process can take years.
Only 27 other water projects in the nation have been fully transferred from the federal government to a local organization.
More Jackson Gulch Reservoir coverage here.
From the Cortez Journal (Mary Shinn):
The Montezuma County landfill has taken a proactive measure to help save taxpayers any unnecessary expense when disposing of nonhazardous waste from the Red Arrow mill in Mancos.
Landfill manager Deb Barton recently requested clarification from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about accepting any non-hazardous waste from the federal Superfund site. Acting as a concerned citizen, Barton said she sought the clarification in order to help lower waste disposal transportation costs associated with the cleanup effort.
“Why pay an extra 50, 60 or 70 miles of transportation when we’re basically 20 miles from Mancos?” she asked. “If this will reduce the cost to taxpayers, isn’t that my responsibility as a citizen?”
“The EPA is going to tear down everything at the mill, and they would like to keep any non-hazardous material as close as possible,” she said.
After an environmental investigation by state authorities, the EPA issued a temporary 60-day permit for the landfill on Feb. 28. Barton said state and federal laws prohibit the landfill from accepting anything but non-hazardous and non-liquid waste only.
“We’ve been certified to meet EPA standards,” said Barton. “Does that mean they can bring the material to me willy-nilly? No. They have to prove that it is non-hazardous.”
Barton said a certified EPA lab report stating the waste was not hazardous would have to be produced before receiving any non-hazardous waste from Red Arrow. Any mercury tainted waste from the milling site must be less than 0.2 parts per million, and any lead or arsenic polluted material must be less than 5 parts per million, she said.
“The EPA will test everything that comes out of the milling site, because they don’t want another Superfund site along the way,” Barton said. “The EPA would not allow any waste to come that doesn’t meet their standards, so I’m not going to screw the pooch either.”
Because of the EPA lab results, Barton said she remained confident that no hazardous material would ever enter the local landfill. She added that nearby archeological sites, ranchers and ordinary citizens also have nothing to fear.
“If the waste doesn’t have that EPA lab report, then it will be going someplace else,” Barton said. “I’m not going to take any hazardous material.”
More Montezuma County coverage here.
From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):
On Monday meteorologist, Marta Nelson, installed a temporary radiometer at Jackson Lake near the Mancos Water Conservancy District. The instrument is able to determine the best combination of water content in clouds and temperature to use a cloud-seeding generator.
Cloud-seeding generators throw up silver iodide into the atmosphere to harvest the extra water because snow will form around it.
“We can see relative humidity and vapor and the potential for a cloud to form. We can also see inside a cloud that’s already formed, so if we’re looking for liquid water versus ice that is frozen in the cloud the radiometer can tell the difference and help tell the cloud-seeding people when to run the generators or when it’s not going to do any good,” she said. Nelson works for Radiometrics Corp., based in Boulder, which installs similar machines all over the world.
The new data also will help scientists decide if the local cloud-seeding generator at Spring Creek should be run later into the winter season, said Jeff Tilley, director of weather modification at the Desert Research Institute in Reno. The institute operates the local cloud-seeding generator remotely. The data collected over the next month will be applied to operations next winter because the Spring Creek generator is almost out of cloud-seeding solution, he said.
The institute is collaborating with the Colorado Water Conservation Board on the project, and the board is paying the $8,500 to lease the radiometer for a month.
Across the state, about $1 million is spent on cloud seeding, and about 65 percent of the funds are provided by local entities such as ski areas, water districts and towns. The other 35 percent of the funds are provided by state and other funding.
The generator near Mancos has been in place for about five years, and in that time, there has been some benefit in the area, Tilley said.
“The impression we have is that we have seen some difference,” he said.
Cloud seeding is safe because silver iodide won’t break down in any way that’s harmful, Nelson said.
From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel) via the Cortez Journal:
The state spent more than $49,000 to stabilize mercury-tainted material at an illegal gold mill in Mancos. Now the state mining board wants Red Arrow Gold Corp. to repay the money, and it moved Wednesday to revoke the company’s mining permit.
Red Arrow owner Craig Liukko did not attend Wednesday’s hearing in Denver, but in letters to regulators, he blamed the problems on a former business partner and a receiver appointed by a bankruptcy court, who has controlled access to Red Arrow’s property since April.
The state excavated and isolated soil at the mill, and it isn’t currently presenting a hazard, said Loretta Pineda, director of the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety…
More mercury remains to be removed from the Out West mine north of U.S. Highway 160, mining inspectors said. Pineda’s division is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on a permanent cleanup. And she still does not know the degree of pollution the mill produced in the past. The EPA is testing samples to figure out if there was a past risk, Pineda said…
On Wednesday, the Mined Land Reclamation Board found Red Arrow in violation of its order from August to clean up the site and pay a $100,000 fine. The board increased the fine to $285,000, increased Red Arrow’s bond and started the procedure to revoke Red Arrow’s mining permit in the next two months.
As part of the cleanup, the state removed mill tailings from a nearby pasture and the Western Excelsior aspen mill, across the street from the Red Arrow operation. Western Excelsior officials thought they were getting sand to patch holes in their lot, said Kyle Hanson, a manager at the aspen mill. The state did a good job of removing the mill tailings, he said…
The mining division spent its entire emergency fund on the initial cleanup, Pineda said. State officials want Red Arrow to repay them…
The Mined Land Reclamation Board also cracked down Wednesday on another Red Arrow property, the Freda mine west of Silverton. Both portals at the mine have collapsed, and stormwater berms have failed, allowing tainted water an tailings to flow off the site toward Ruby Creek, said Wally Erickson, an inspector for the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety. The board fined Red Arrow $2,500 for the violations at the Silverton mine.
More water pollution coverage here.
From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):
The site was recently ordered to cease and desist by the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, who fined Liukko $337,167 for operating a mill without a license and five other mining violations.
Inspectors found dangerous levels of mercury inside the building and arsenic pollution in tailing piles outside the site and at the mine site in the nearby La Plata mountains. The Environmental Protection Agency is evaluating the sites for cleanup and remediation.
“We did not know it was there, and did not receive any plans from the operator that it was going on,” said county planning director Susan Carver. “It is a violation of the land use code because it is an industrial use that requires a high-impact permit and hearings before the county planning board and commission.”
Carver said Red Arrow Gold Corporation could face penalties for non-compliance but the decision would be up to the county commissioners.
“Operations there have ceased at this point,” she said. “It is a concern because of the health hazards for neighbors and for employees. Safeguards would have been required and evaluated under our permit system.”
Commissioner Larry Don Suckla, who represents the Mancos area, was angered by the illegal mill site.
“It is very upsetting because (the mill) broke the rules and created a risk to the safety of county residents and the town of Mancos as well,” he said. “This type of operation is far different than panning for gold.”
The commissioners are considering holding a community meeting with mine regulators to inform the public of the situation. Whether the county will levy penalties of its own, Suckla said, “Everything is on the table at this point. I feel like we were misled.”[...]
Decontaminating the milling site and mine have been handed over to the EPA and are in the planning stages. State mine regulators are expecting a cleanup to be completed by the end of the year.
More coverage from Nancy Lofholm writing for The Denver Post:
While the town of Mancos worries over what a rogue gold mill might have put into its air, water and soil, Colorado mining authorities have called on the federal government to deal with what is being described as one of the most serious cases of pollution from illegal gold milling in the state.
The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to determine just how bad contamination is from a mill that had been using mercury to remove gold from ore at an under-the-radar, unlicensed mill on the edge of the southwestern Colorado town.
The EPA also will decide whether the mill should be designated for a Superfund cleanup. The Superfund program was created in 1980 to clean up the worst uncontrolled hazardous waste sites in the country.
The Red Arrow Gold Corp. mill contamination was discovered in June, and the mill was shut down by the state that same month. Mercury was found in two metal and cinder-block buildings just west of town when the company, which also owns the historically rich Red Arrow Mine, was placed in receivership. The division has fenced off and locked the site.
An initial investigation of the mill buildings turned up mercury contamination throughout the operation. Mercury was found in plastic buckets of sludge and in an overturned washtub that served as a vent hood. Inspectors’ photographs show droplets of mercury on drains, a jug marked “21.5 lbs Mercury” and stock tanks filled with sediment. Piles of processed material outside the building were covered with plastic tarps held down by old tires.
“This is one of the most serious cases we’ve come across of illegal milling,” said Tony Waldron, who is with the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety. Testing thus far has shown the entire mill is probably contaminated with mercury. On some pieces of equipment, it is concentrated as much as 744 times the allowable level. The highest concentrations were measured at 32,000 parts per million. The standard considered safe for industrial operations is 43 parts per million.
Mercury can cause nerve damage in humans, and its use in separating gold from ore would not have been approved, Waldron said.
Tailings outside the mill buildings and also piled outside a nearby lumber operation were found to be contaminated with arsenic, but Waldron said the arsenic-laced tailings don’t pose a health hazard where they now sit.
“Obviously, we are concerned about the potential spread of mercury,” said Mancos town administrator Andrea Phillips. “We don’t know enough yet to know exactly what our concerns are.” Phillips has asked the EPA and state mining regulators to hold a public information meeting so that concerned Mancos residents who have been calling town hall can get some answers.
Red Arrow Gold Corp. president Craig Liukko might be able to provide some of those answers, but he did not show up at a Mined Land Reclamation Board hearing in Denver on Aug. 14, and he has not been seen lately around Mancos, Phillips said. In his absence, the board cited Liukko for the contamination and for operating a mill without a permit. The board fined him $285,000 for the 57 days the mill was believed to have operated in violation of state laws. All but $100,000 of that will be suspended if Liukko complies with corrective actions the division orders. Red Arrow was also ordered to reimburse the division $52,167 for the cost of its response to the mill discovery.
Liukko did not return a call asking for comment. In a conversation a month ago, he said his company had gone to great lengths to be cautious with the small amount of mercury he said was used in the gold-separating process. He said he did not think the mill needed approval to operate because it was a “pilot project.”
Liukko, whose family acquired the Red Arrow Mine nearly 30 years ago, also blamed an out-of-state hedge fund for Red Arrow’s troubles.
In a tangled financing agreement, Maximillian Investors of Delaware sued American Patriot Gold, He-Man LLC and Red Arrow Gold Corp., resulting in the receivership and the revelation that Red Arrow, which had promised investors large returns, had only $2,043 left in a bank account.
The Red Arrow Mine had delivered riches in another era. The mine’s ore body discovered in 1933 produced 4,114 ounces of gold between 1933 and 1937. In those days, ore from the mine was shipped to Leadville for smelting and then sent to the Denver Mint. The gold from Red Arrow included a legendary 5.5-pound nugget.
Marcie Jeager, who is handling the receivership through Jeager Kottmeier Associates of Denver, said she is focusing her asset-recovery efforts on the mine. It is permitted to operate by the state and is not contaminated like the mill. “We want to preserve the mine permit so someone else can buy that as a permitted mine that has value,” she said.
The Red Arrow Mine’s ore body discovered in 1933 produced 4,114 ounces of gold between 1933 and 1937. The gold mine and mill had operated off and on since 1988. It had most recently resumed operations in 2006.
State authorities took emergency actions in June to shut down the mine over mercury contamination. 43 parts per million of mercury is the standard measure considered safe for industrial operations 32,000 parts per million of mercury measured on equipment at the Red Arrow Mine, the highest concentration found there.
From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):
It’s “one of the uglier cases of using hazardous chemicals and illegal milling” that state mining regulators have seen, said Julie Murphy, a lawyer for the state Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety…
On Wednesday [August 14], the state Mined Land Reclamation Board slapped fines totaling $337,167 on the mill’s operator, Red Arrow Gold Corp. If Red Arrow cooperates with the cleanup and increases its bond with the state, $185,000 of the fine will be suspended. The facility has been shut down since April because of a bankruptcy dispute. The state got involved in June and issued a cease-and-desist order on the mill. The state contracted with Walter Environmental to test for contamination inside and outside the two buildings on the site, and the results came back last week…
Inspectors painted an alarming picture of what they found at the two small buildings, which sit across Grand Avenue to the north of the Western Excelsior aspen mill. They showed pictures of a series of machines that use mercury to separate tiny gold particles from rock taken from Red Arrow’s mine about 10 miles northwest of Mancos. The mercury-gold mixture was heated to separate the gold and attempt to recycle the mercury through a scrubber. A galvanized steel washtub was flipped upside down and used as a hood to catch mercury near the scrubber.