#AnimasRiver: EPA creates the Bonita Peak Mining District superfund site #GoldKingMine

On April 7,  2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear. Eric Baker
On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Laura Jenkins):

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will add the Bonita Peak Mining District (BPMD) site in San Juan County, Colo., to the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites on September 9, 2016. Superfund is the federal program that investigates and cleans up the most complex, uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites to protect public health and the environment.

“Listing the Bonita Peak Mining District on the National Priorities List is an important step that enables EPA to secure the necessary resources to investigate and address contamination concerns of San Juan and La Plata Counties, as well as other downstream communities in New Mexico, Utah, and the Navajo Nation,” said Shaun McGrath, EPA’s Regional Administrator. “We look forward to continuing our efforts with the State of Colorado, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S Forest Service, Tribal governments, and our community partners to address the impacts of acid mine drainage on the Animas River.”

EPA proposed the BPMD site for addition to the NPL on April 7, 2016, and conducted a 68-day public comment period on the proposal. After reviewing and responding to all comments in a responsiveness summary, EPA has added the site to the NPL. To view the responsiveness summary (Support Document) and other documents related to the addition of the Bonita Peak Mining District to the National Priorities List, please visit: http://www.epa.gov/superfund/current-npl-updates-new-proposed-npl-sites-and-new-npl-sites.

The Bonita Peak Mining District site consists of historic and ongoing releases from mining operations in three drainages: Mineral Creek, Cement Creek and Upper Animas; which converge into the Animas River near Silverton, Colorado. Mining began in the area in the 1860s and both large- and small-scale mining operations continued into the 1990s, with the last mine ceasing production in 1991. The site includes 35 mines, seven tunnels, four tailings impoundments, and two study areas where additional information is needed to evaluate environmental concerns.
Water quality in the BPMD has been impaired by acid mine drainage for decades. Since 1998, Colorado has designated portions of the Animas River downstream from Cement Creek as impaired for heavy metals, including lead, iron and aluminum. EPA has waste quantity data on 32 of Bonita Peak’s 48 sources. These 32 sources have waste rock and water discharging out of mining adits at a combined rate of 5.4 million gallons per day. Cadmium, copper, manganese and zinc are the known contaminants associated with these discharges.

“Listing the Bonita Peak Mining District is critical to addressing historic mining impacts in San Juan County and our downstream communities,” said Martha Rudolph, director of environmental programs for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “We are committed to working closely with our Federal and state partners to achieve an effective cleanup, while ensuring that all our affected communities have a voice in the process as this moves forward.”

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the law establishing the Superfund program, requires EPA to update the NPL at least annually and clean up hazardous waste sites to protect human health with the goal of returning them to productive use. A site’s listing neither imposes a financial obligation on EPA nor assigns liability to any party. Updates to the NPL do, however, provide policymakers with a list of high-priority sites, serving to identify the size and nature of the nation’s cleanup challenges.

The Superfund program has provided important benefits for people and the environment since Congress established the program in 1980. Those benefits are both direct and indirect, and include reduction of threats to human health and ecological systems in the vicinity of Superfund sites, improvement of the economic conditions and quality of life in communities affected by hazardous waste sites, prevention of future releases of hazardous substances, and advances in science and technology.

For more information on the Bonita Peak Mining District site please visit: http://www.epa.gov/superfund/bonita-peak

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Farmington Daily Times:

A Colorado mine that spewed 3 million gallons of contaminated wastewater into rivers in three Western states was designated a Superfund site Wednesday, clearing the way for a multimillion-dollar federal cleanup.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency added the inactive Gold King Mine and 47 other nearby sites to the Superfund list…

The Colorado Superfund designation is the beginning of a years-long effort to clean up the wreckage of a once-booming mining industry in the San Juan Mountains in the southwestern corner of the state. Abandoned mining sites send millions of gallons of acidic wastewater to creeks and rivers every year…

The spill triggered a storm of criticism of the EPA and at least three lawsuits.

New Mexico has sued both the EPA and Colorado over the spill, while the Navajo Nation sued the federal government. Utah officials say they also plan to sue…

An investigation last year by the Interior Department, which is independent of the EPA, said the cleanup crew could have avoided the spill but rushed its work.

Interior officials said they found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. A separate criminal investigation is still underway, along with an internal EPA inquiry.

Congress has conducted multiple hearings on the spill and is considering several bills to address hundreds of old, leaking mines nationwide.

The EPA said Wednesday it’s too early to say how long the cleanup will take and what it will cost.

Authorities will first gather data including water and sediment samples and assessments of fish and wildlife habitat and other information. That process will probably end next year, said Rebecca Thomas, EPA’s manager for the project, known as the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Site.

The EPA will then study different cleanup methods, choose a preferred option and ask for public comment. Work would then start on designing and implementing the cleanup.

Fixes could include water treatment plants for acidic waste draining from the site, plugging abandoned mines that are leaking and moving mine waste piles away from streams, Thomas said.

The Superfund listing marks a dramatic shift in public sentiment in Silverton and surrounding San Juan County, where many residents first feared the designation would stamp the area with a stigma and hurt its vital tourism industry. The EPA does not designate Superfund sites without local support…

Esper said Silverton could become a research center for cleaning up leaking mines across the nation. The Government Accountability Office estimates that at least 33,000 abandoned mines across the West and in Alaska are contaminating water or causing other environmental problems.

The cleanup might also improve the town’s finances, which have been in decline since a mine and mill closed in 1991, Esper said.

From The Silverton Standard (Mark Esper):

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will add the Bonita Peak Mining District (BPMD) site in San Juan County, Colo., to the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites on September 9, 2016. Superfund is the federal program that investigates and cleans up the most complex, uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites to protect public health and the environment.

“Listing the Bonita Peak Mining District on the National Priorities List is an important step that enables EPA to secure the necessary resources to investigate and address contamination concerns of San Juan and La Plata Counties, as well as other downstream communities in New Mexico, Utah, and the Navajo Nation,” said Shaun McGrath, EPA’s Regional Administrator. “We look forward to continuing our efforts with the State of Colorado, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S Forest Service, Tribal governments, and our community partners to address the impacts of acid mine drainage on the Animas River.”

EPA proposed the BPMD site for addition to the NPL on April 7, 2016, and conducted a 68-day public comment period on the proposal. After reviewing and responding to all comments in a responsiveness summary, EPA has added the site to the NPL. The responsiveness summary can be found here: https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=EPA-HQ-OLEM-2016-01522

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