Colorado Water 2012: It’s the twentieth anniversary of the Summitville Mine disaster

July 19, 2012

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Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series written by Cindy Medina with Alamosa Riverkeeper. Click through and read the whole thing, here’s an excerpt:

In 1992, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emergency response unit found a mountain decimated with a massive open scar, pools of murky green water, and snake-like black pipes lying throughout the site. In contrast, the untouched snow-capped San Juan Mountains surrounded the catastrophe. Later, downstream fishermen and farmers reported fish, victims of the cyanide spill at the mine site, floating in the Alamosa River and in their private reservoirs. How would the governmental agencies and the local residents respond to such an environmental catastrophe with a remediation cost that eventually would exceed $220 million?

The degree of environmental irresponsibility displayed by a Canadian mining company was counterbalanced by the degree of commitment and dedication by local residents, federal and state agencies to this environmental tragedy. In 2002, a settlement was reached with Robert Friedland for $28.5 million, with $5 million exclusively designated for the use “to restore, replace, or acquire the equivalent of” the injured natural resources. This natural resource damage settlement looks small compared to Friedland’s current status of a billionaire who works out of Vancouver, Singapore, and Magnolia as reported by author Walter Isaacson.

But the settlement proved significant to agencies and organizations for its leverage potency for additional monies for projects designed to restore the watershed.

More Summitville Superfund site coverage here and here.


Summitville superfund site: New water treatment plant dedication last Friday

September 12, 2011

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From The South Fork Tines:

“I want to thank the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for providing funding to complete the new water treatment plant at Summitville,” said Chris Urbina, executive director and chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “This project provided more than a 100 construction jobs in this area, and significantly improved water quality, restoring fish and aquatic life to the Alamosa River and Terrace Reservoir,” he said…

In May 2009, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was awarded more than $16 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and construction of the 1600-gallon-per minute water treatment plant began on Sept. 14, 2009. The plant will remove contaminants from acidic metals-contaminated mine drainage before the water leaves the site and enters the headwaters of the Alamosa River, which flows into the Rio Grande. Funds from the act are paying 90 percent of this remedial action; the department is paying the remaining 10 percent.

Gold and silver mining began at Summitville around 1870. Large-scale, open-pit mining began at the site in 1984. The mine operator, Summitville Consolidated Mining Corp., Inc., used cyanide heap leaching to extract precious metals from the ore. In this process, ore excavated from the mountain was crushed and placed onto the clay- and synthetic-lined heap leach pad. A sodium cyanide solution was then applied to leach out gold and silver.

Almost immediately after the heap leach pad was constructed in 1986, a leak was detected. In December 1992, the company abandoned the site and announced it was filing for bankruptcy. EPA immediately assumed responsibility of the site as an emergency response, avoiding a significant environmental disaster. On May 31, 1994, Summitville was placed on EPA’s National Priorities List of Superfund sites.

Since 1992, EPA and the department have conducted several interim projects designed to slow the amount of acid mine drainage coming from the site. These interim projects included: 1) detoxifying, capping and revegetating the heap leach pad; 2) removing waste rock piles and filling the mine pits; 3) plugging the adits or underground mine entrances; and 4) expanding the water runoff holding ponds and operating a water treatment plant on site. The new water plant, dedicated today, replaces one built several years ago.

More Summitville Mine superfund site coverage here and here.


Summitville Mine superfund site: Open house Wednesday for opening of new water treatment facility

August 27, 2011

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

State environmental officials will host an open house Wednesday for the opening of a new water treatment facility at the Summitville Mine Superfund site

The open house will run from noon to 4 p.m. and include a grand-opening ceremony from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Site tours will be offered at noon and 2:30 p.m.

More Summitville coverage here and here.


Summitville superfund site update

October 17, 2010

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The water treatment plant, funded by $17 million in federal stimulus spending, has been eyed by federal and state environmental officials as a key component in limiting contamination from the site. It joins a new micro-hydro power plant and a dam spillway as projects crews worked on this summer. “There’s quite a lot going on this year,” said Austin Buckingham, project manager for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment…

Austin Buckingham said the new plant, which will draw water from the impoundment dam at the bottom of the site, will use lime to raise the pH balance of the contaminated water. The rise in pH forces the metals to precipitate. Those metals include copper, cadmium, manganese, zinc, lead, nickel, aluminum, and iron. With a capacity of 1,600 gallons per minute and the ability to run at night, thanks to automation, the plant is expected to have an easier time dealing with spring runoff from the site, which sits near tree line 18 miles southwest of Del Norte…

Other projects moving forward this year include the installation of a 56 kilowatt hydro power plant, which is expected to cut an estimated $15,000 per year off the site’s power bill. Turbines for the plant are expected to arrive in two weeks, she said. The turbines will be powered by water coming from the treatment plant on its way to Wrightman Fork, a tributary of the Alamosa River.

More Summitville Mine coverage here and here.


Summitville superfund site scores stimulus dough

April 23, 2009

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From the Conejos County Citizen:

United States Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, and Congressman John Salazar have announced that the Summitville Mine Superfund site in Del Norte will receive between $10 and $25 million in funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to accelerate hazardous waste clean-up already underway at the site. The funding will complete work begun in 2007, when the EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment started designing a new 1,600 gallons-per-minute water treatment plant, with construction slated to begin in 2010. The plant will remove contaminants from acidic metals-contaminated mine drainage before the water leaves the site and enters the headwaters of the Alamosa River, which flows into the Rio Grande. When the plant is operational, all cleanup work at the Summitville Mine site will be complete.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.


Stimulus dough for Summitville

April 16, 2009

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Stimulus dough is poised to rain down on the Summitville Mine superfund site, according to a report from Mark Jaffe writing for the Denver Post. From the article:

The Summitville Mine Superfund site will receive up to $25 million in federal stimulus funds to replace an aging plant used to treat polluted mine water…

…there were five small water-treatment plants on the site. A couple were closed and the rest consolidated into a single, upgraded operation, Wangerud said. That plant, however, had a rated capacity of 1,000 gallons per minute. “It just didn’t have the capacity to treat all the water,” Wangerud said. The new plant will handle 1,600 gallons a minute, removing acid and metal contamination from the mine drainage water, according to the EPA. The treated water is discharged into Wightman Fork, a tributary of the Alamosa River, which flows into the Rio Grande. When the plant is operational, cleanup work at the mine site will be complete.

More coverage from the Valley Courier (Eric Mullins) including a timeline for the Summitville Mine superfund site.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.


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