Public comment period open for Cotter Mill license

July 21, 2014
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Public comment is being accepted on the process of licensing the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill until decommissioning is complete. A total of six new documents are available for comment until Sept. 16. The documents outline the radioactive materials license changes that Cotter officials will operate under while cleaning up the mill site.

The mill has not processed uranium since 2006 and Cotter officials, along with state and federal health officials, are working toward a full cleanup of the site which has been on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund list since 1984. Although the state will not terminate the license until all decommissioning, remediation and reclamation activities are complete, provisions in the license need to change.

The site can no longer be used to produce yellowcake from uranium and only the Zirconium ore that already is on site will be allowed there. The cleanup of the site will address an impoundment that has been used to store tailings and the recently torn down mill buildings. Cotter officials have agreed to set aside a financial assurance of $17,837,983 to cover the cost of decommissioning activities. In addition, a longterm care fund will cover post-license termination activities. The $250,000 fund was created in 1978 and has grown to $1,018,243 through interest payments.

The documents pertaining to the license changes and a map of the Cotter Mill site can be viewed at http://recycle4colorado.ipower.com/Cotter/2014/14cotterdocs.htm. Comments should be sent to Warren Smith, community involvement manager for the state health department via email at warren.smith@state.co.us or mailed to Smith at Colorado Department of Public Health, 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South, Denver, CO 80246-1530.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.


The Resurrection Mining Co. files change of use on Twin Lakes shares to augment depletions at the Yak Tunnel treatment plant

July 3, 2014
Yak Tunnel via the EPA

Yak Tunnel via the EPA

From The Leadville Herald (Danny Ramey):

The Resurrection Mining Company has filed for approval of an augmentation plan that would allow it to use water shares to replace water depleted from the Yak Tunnel and water treatment plant. Under the plan, the company would use shares it owns in Twin Lakes Reservoir to replace water depleted by its operations in California Gulch. Resurrection filed an application for approval of the augmentation plan with Division 2 of the Colorado Water Court on May 20.

Resurrection currently owns 22 shares of water in Twin Lakes. Twelve of those shares are included on a provisional basis, meaning Resurrection can remove those shares from the plan or use it for purposes other than what it was originally approved for.

In its plan, Resurrection estimates that depletions from its plant range from 3 to 7.7 acre feet of depletions a year. The plan seeks to augment five structures owned by Resurrection. Of those structures, only two cause water depletion, according to the plan. Water depletes from the Yak Surge Pond and the Yak Treatment Plant via evaporation, and some also leaves the treatment plant through the disposal of residuals used in water treatment. The water shares from Twin Lakes would be delivered to the intersection of Lake Creek and the Arkansas River under the plan.

ASARCO and Resurrection have been using water from Twin Lakes to replace depletion from their operations at the Yak since 1989. However, they have been doing so under substitute water supply plans, which expired June 14, 2014. Resurrection’s application would provide for a permanent water replacement plan. The application also asks the division to renew the substitute water supply plan.

Resurrection and ASARCO entered into a joint agreement to develop mine sites in the Leadville area in 1965. The Yak Treatment Tunnel was originally under title to ASARCO. However, when ASARCO went bankrupt, Resurrection assumed the title.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


Clear Creek Courant series [Part 1] about the past, present and future of Clear Creek

June 18, 2014

Graphic via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

Graphic via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation


Check out Ian Neligh’s retrospective about Clear Creek and the heydays of mining and logging (The Clear Creek Courant). Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

Editor’s note:This is the first installment of a three-part series examining the past, present and future of Clear Creek…

Gold

There’s a monument in Idaho Springs hidden away in the parking lot of the former middle school. The giant boulder pays tribute to George Jackson, an adventurer and fortune hunter, who discovered gold in Clear Creek 155 years ago.

According to Don Allan, vice president of the Idaho Springs Historical Society, Jackson’s curiosity to follow the creek west into the mountains with only a couple of dogs by his side led to the country’s second largest gold rush.

Like a row of dominoes, Jackson’s discovery led to an onslaught of pioneers and ultimately in 1876 to the formation of a state.

“(Jackson) decided to go over and take a look down at the crick, and his curiosity brought him here to the confluence of Chicago Creek and Clear Creek,” Allan said. “When I talk with people about our community and how we got here, it was because of one man’s very good curiosity and a piece of gold.”

Jackson discovered gold in January, and by June, more than 400 people had settled in the area.

Natural hot springs drew more people into the area. Allan said in the Idaho Springs museum’s photography collection, there’s a photo of more than 50 employees standing in front of the hot springs.

“Once the stream was panned out, they panned all the gold out of the crick. Then they had to dig and make mining mills,” Allan said. “And this crick was integral to the milling of all the gold and silver in this area.”

The creek was used to support the mining industry such as the Mixel Dam in Idaho Springs, which was formed to help power mining mills and to create electricity. In 1864, silver was discovered to be the main mining mineral in Georgetown, and by 1877, the railroad reached Idaho Springs.

According to “A History of Clear Creek County,” the area at one point had 48 different towns with names such as Red Elephant, Freeland and Hill City. It is estimated that several thousand mines crisscrossed the mountains around Clear Creek as people sought their fortunes first along its banks and then in its mountains.

Those unlucky in gold sometimes found their way into the county’s second largest industry: logging. Early photos of the surrounding hillsides show them stripped of trees. But in time, the mining and logging industry waned, the frenzy slowed and the towns disappeared until there were only four municipalities left: Idaho Springs, Georgetown, Empire and Silver Plume. By World War II, the county’s mining industry has come almost to a complete halt.

But the stream once called Cannonball Creek, Vasquez Fork and lastly Clear Creek remained.

More Clear Creek watershed coverage here.


The Resurrection Mining Co. files change of use on Twin Lakes shares to augment depletions at the Yak Tunnel treatment plant

June 18, 2014
Yak Tunnel via the EPA

Yak Tunnel via the EPA

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Resurrection Mining Co. has filed its plan in water court to permanently replace flows to the Arkansas River water from its Yak Tunnel reclamation plant.

According to a court filing in May, the company plans to dedicate 10 shares of Twin Lakes water to flow down Lake Creek to replace the water it is capturing and cleaning at the Yak Tunnel plant and surge pond about 1 mile southeast of Leadville.

The water court application formalizes an arrangement that has been in place since Resurrection took over operation of the Yak Tunnel from ASARCO after a bankruptcy filing in 2005.

ASARCO began operating the Yak Tunnel plant in 1989 following federal court decisions that required mining companies to intercept and treat drainage from mine tunnels. Twin Lakes shares were leased until the company bought its own shares in 1994.

Depletions amounted to 3-7.7 acre-feet (1 million- 2.5 million gallons) annually from 2006-13. Replacement for those flows were replaced under a substitute water supply plan, an agreement administered by the state Division of Water Resources.

The tunnel, like others in the area, originally was drilled to dewater mines and increase productivity. However, the drainage includes heavy metals that diminish water quality and endanger wildlife. The surge pond captures water that escapes from tunnels and allows the water treatment plan The court filing assures that an operating plan is in place, regardless of how much water is needed in any given year to replace depletion.

More water pollution coverage here.


Denver Water recycled water for the Rocky Mountain Arsenal? CDPHE says not so fast.

May 20, 2014
Rocky Mountain Arsenal -- 1947

Rocky Mountain Arsenal — 1947

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Even with Colorado’s push to rely more on recycled water, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge will spend another summer using millions of gallons of Denver’s drinking water to fill lakes and irrigate fields after a recent decision by state health officials.

Federal wildlife biologists calculate they’re drawing more than 82 million gallons of Denver drinking water a year to fill three once-toxic lakes at the refuge, formerly a nerve gas and pesticides plant that became an environmental disaster.

“This refuge needs water, and using recycled water to fulfill a portion of our needs is a wise choice for the future,” refuge manager Dave Lucas said. Denver recycled water “meets our needs and allows millions and millions of gallons of drinking water to be put to better use by Denver residents.”

But the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment last week reaffirmed its position that the refuge must go through a process of proving why it should be allowed to use water that is not as clean and submit to an Environmental Protection Agency review.

A $2.1 billion cleanup of toxic pollution included restoration of the lakes for catch-and-release fishing and to store water, which wildlife managers use to irrigate the 27-square-mile refuge — habitat for bison and other species.

Until the drought of 2002, High Line Canal agricultural water trickled into the lakes. Groundwater pumping added more water. CDPHE at some point — it was not clear when — reclassified the lakes as water supplies, and refuge managers made a deal with Denver to use drinking water, which started in 2008.

Then, in 2009, CDPHE reclassified the lakes as water bodies, meaning “an important social or economic development” reason for allowing lesser-quality water must be demonstrated. State officials, on an emergency basis in May 2013, agreed to remove the water supply classification on the refuge lakes but still require the proof of a public purpose before water quality can be reduced.

Frustrated refuge managers, backed by Denver Water and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, have been pressing to use recycled water and putting in the plumbing to do so.

Denver Water has spent more than $197 million installing a citywide 80-mile network of pipelines that distribute partially treated recycled water to parks, golf courses and the Denver Zoo. The museum uses recycled water in its new heating and cooling system.

All sides agree that using more recycled water is a priority.

But CDPHE Water Quality Control commissioners on May 13 voted 5-4 to reject a request to reconsider — so the refuge must go through a “necessity of degradation demonstration” review to be able to use recycled water.

“We want to support use of recycled water. But we cannot do it by bending the rules,” CDPHE water quality standards chief Sarah Johnson said. “The best solution is for them to complete the necessity of degradation determination. It isn’t a heavy lift. We have promised to help.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service managers of the refuge say the analysis for the review would not cost much but would require spending $10,000 to $15,000 a year more for water monitoring. They said new analysis would have to be done every three to five years, tied to permitting, creating uncertainty because state officials could ask for operational and infrastructure changes during reviews.

Lucas said even if they were to have something to present by the June commissioners’ meeting, it would be October at the earliest for the water switch if everything was approved.

Denver Water officials have been working aggressively since 2004 to increase use of recycled water, saving 7,000 acre-feet of drinking water a year, utility recycled water director Jenny Murray said.

Switching to recycled water at the refuge is the correct solution, Murray said. “It’s the right use because we are trying to preserve drinking water supplies for a growing population in a water-scarce region. Using drinking water for uses that do not require drinking water is wasteful.”

Denver Water attorneys in a May 6 letter to CDPHE argue that state lawmakers have ordered efforts to “encourage the reuse of reclaimed domestic wastewater.” Denver Water contends CDPHE decisions undermine state policy, waste public resources and defy common sense by imposing a needless bureaucratic burden.

One of Denver’s new recycled water pipelines runs by the Denver Museum of Nature & Science to the refuge. A steady, year-round flow of recycled water in that pipeline is required to ensure sufficient flow to run the museum’s innovative new geothermal heating and cooling system, which was funded by a federal grant to boost energy efficiency.

“When we designed our system three to four years ago, both Denver Water and the refuge folks felt that obtaining a permit to discharge recycled water into the lakes at the refuge would not be a problem,” said Dave Noel, museum vice president for facilities, capital projects and sustainability.

CDPHE’s stance “has got all of us scratching our heads,” Noel said.

Museum officials sent a May 8 letter to CDPHE arguing that “the loss of 17,000 acres of thriving wildlife and fish habitat due to lack of water would be a severe blow to the state and the Front Range, and simply does not make sense when a logical solution seems readily available.”

At the refuge, future water needs are projected as high as 456 million gallons a year. Beyond Denver Water, wildlife managers rely heavily on pumping water from underground aquifers into the Mary, Ladora and Lower Derby lakes — pumping they are trying to reduce by using more recycled water, which is cheaper than drinking water. They calculate the federal water bill could be cut by $30,000 a year.

A thriving bison herd is growing, with 11 calves born this spring, pushing the population to 81. An adult bison can eat around 50 pounds of grass a day. A team of biologists recently had to reduce the herd to prevent exhaustion of the short-grass prairie. Plans call for expanding bison habitat to allow a herd of 209 bison, which would roam up to the road to Denver International Airport, where a visitor viewing station is envisioned. Not having reliable recycled water will limit the bison herd and lead to decreased numbers of waterfowl, fish and grassland birds, Lucas said.

“We’re probably not going to irrigate this summer, which is bad for habitat restoration,” he said, “or we will have to drain down the lakes to irrigate.”

Lucas remains puzzled by the entire process.

“We’re talking about the same recycled water used everywhere. But somehow the refuge is different? Lots of smart people are looking at this, and no one can figure it out,” he said. “We engaged in this year-long process with hopes of fixing their error — the water supply change. Why would we want to engage in another unknown and uncertain process that will last months, if not years?”

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


ASARCO hopes to tap into Union Pacific for some dough for Vasquez Blvd. & I-70 superfund site

May 16, 2014

unionpacificunit4065

From The Denver Post (Kirk Mitchell):

Asarco wants the Union Pacific Railroad Co. to pay for part of the cleanup of a Superfund site where arsenic leached into Denver groundwater from rail tracks.

A lawsuit before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says Union Pacific should reimburse Asarco for some of the $1.5 million environmental cleanup of 4 square miles near Vasquez Boulevard and Interstate 70 known as the Vasquez site, where gold, zinc, lead and other metals were smelted.

Asarco, a Phoenix-based mining and refinery company, has paid a total of $1.8 billion at 20 Superfund sites around the country, including the much larger Globeville site in north Denver.

In its lawsuit, Asarco claims that Union Pacific used mine tailings in rail beds traversing the Vasquez site. The tailings used to support the rail lines leached into surface and groundwater, resulting in elevated levels of arsenic and lead, the lawsuit says.

But Union Pacific met all of its financial obligations related to the Vasquez site in a court-approved June 2009 settlement between the railroad, the government and Asarco, said attorney Carolyn McIntosh, who represents the railroad.

“It was a full resolution,” McIntosh told a panel of three circuit court judges in Denver on Wednesday morning.

Pepsi-Cola Metropolitan Bottling Co., a New Jersey company that owns some of the property on the Vasquez site, also is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which was filed in December 2012.

Asarco attorney Gregory Evans said the Vasquez site is just one of many around the country that Union Pacific polluted. He estimated that cleanup costs for all the sites would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. “Union Pacific has negatively impacted human health and the environment through its use and abandonment of mining waste along (railroad tracks),” Evans said Wednesday.

Federal District Magistrate Judge Michael Watanabe previously has ruled that Asarco failed to file its lawsuit within the statute of limitations.

Asarco attorney Duncan Getchell said Watanabe erred because the effective date of the settlement involving Union Pacific and Pepsi-Cola is Dec. 9, 2012, when Asarco’s bankruptcy was finalized.

More water pollution coverage here.


2014 Colorado legislation: Cañon City residents are cautiously optimistic for results from SB14-192

May 2, 2014
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via The Denver Post

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via The Denver Post

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Residents here are thankful for bipartisan legislation passed [by the Senate] Wednesday that will help clean up groundwater contamination by Cotter Corp.’s uranium mill. The legislation will ensure that uranium mills clean up ongoing contamination of residents’ groundwater as expeditiously as possible, with the best available technology. The legislation will help give direction to the state health department as it oversees the cleanup, according to Chris Arend of Conservation Colorado.

Residents of the Lincoln Park neighborhood just north of the Cotter Uranium Mill site have been hooked up to city water so they can avoid using wells that have been contaminated by uranium and molybdenum which seeped from the mill site.

The neighborhood and Cotter mill have been part of a Superfund cleanup site since 1984.

“For my Lincoln Park neighbors, forsaking our historic use of our water wells was never an option. We knew we needed to keep fighting for full and active cleanup of our wells, not only to restore our current rights but for future residents,” said Sharyn Cunningham, a Lincoln Park resident who is co-chair of Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste.

“After 30 years of contamination and indifference, the residents of Lincoln Park saw significant movement in their campaign for the Cotter Corp. to finally clean up its mess,” said Pete Maysmith of Conservation Colorado. “No community should have to endure the long-term exposure to uranium and other contamination as the community of Canon City has.”

Cotter officials, along with state and federal health officials, are overseeing decommissioning and full cleanup now that the mill is closed.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here. More nuclear coverage here.


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