#AnimasRiver: #GoldKingMine Citizens’ Advisory Committee hears update — the Farmington Daily Times

Health and environmental officials in San Juan County are evaluating the Animas River after roughly 1 million gallons of mine waste water were released Wednesday. August 6, 2015. (Photo courtesy San Juan Basin Health Department)
Health and environmental officials in San Juan County are evaluating the Animas River after roughly 1 million gallons of mine waste water were released Wednesday. August 6, 2015. (Photo courtesy San Juan Basin Health Department)

From The Farmington Daily Times (Joshua Kellogg):

The Gold King Mine Citizens’ Advisory Committee heard an update on the quality of the drinking water during its meeting today at San Juan College.

Stephanie Stringer, chief of the New Mexico Environment Department’s Drinking Water Bureau, gave a presentation to the committee on the status of public water systems in the Animas and San Juan watersheds.

The committee includes 11 volunteers who monitor efforts to document the long-term effects of the mine spill, which in August 2015 released more than 3 million gallons of towaste water with heavy metals into the Animas Rivers.

About 89,000 San Juan County residents’ water systems were affected by the mine when intakes were closed to protect treatment plants and water reservoirs, according to Stringer’s presentation. That figure does not include water systems on the Navajo Nation, which are not monitored by the state agency.

But in the year after the mine spill, the affected public water systems have remained in compliance with drinking water quality standards, Stringer said.

She said no metal contamination was found in any of the drinking water samples collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“With a couple of minor exceptions of failing infrastructure systems, the public water systems are doing their job, and the water is safe to drink,” Stringer said after the meeting.

While not related to the mine spill, poor infrastructure maintenance is behind the failing treatment systems of the Morningstar and Harvest Gold water systems, Stringer said. Operated by the AV Water Co., the two systems serve nearly 7,000 residents in Crouch Mesa and areas outside Bloomfield. Those customers have been under a boil advisory since May 25 because of the failing treatment plants.

Drinking water from all other public water systems is safe for all uses, according to Stringer.

In her presentation, Stringer also detailed the bureau’s efforts to monitor the quality of the drinking water systems after the mine spill. Stringer said some public water systems are developing plans in case an emergency again threatens drinking water.

“We are encouraging all the public water systems to develop source water protection plans to ensure they know what to do in an event such as this,” Stringer said after the meeting.

The Gold King Mine Citizens’ Advisory Committee will meet next at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at the Nenahnezad Chapter house in Fruitland.

Navajos sue feds over Gold King Mine spill — The Durango Herald

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)
The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

From the Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via The Durango Herald:

Leaders of one of the nation’s largest American Indian tribes blasted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as their attorneys sued Tuesday, claiming negligence in the cleanup of the Gold King Mine spill that tainted rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye stood on the bank of the San Juan River in northwestern New Mexico and explained his people’s link to the water and the economic, cultural and psychological damage inflicted in the wake of the August 2015 spill, which occurred in an inactive mine north of Silverton.

“EPA, we’re holding your feet to the fire,” Begaye said, promising that generations of Navajos are willing to fight. “We will not let you get away with this because you have caused great damage to our people, our river, our lifeblood.”

[…]

The Navajo Nation joins New Mexico in pursuing legal action over the spill. The state of New Mexico sued the EPA and Colorado earlier this year, citing environmental and economic damage.

Tribal officials at the news conference and in the lawsuit pointed to delays and resistance by the EPA, saying the agency has failed to compensate Navajos for their losses or provide any meaningful recovery efforts over the past year.

The EPA has dedicated more than $29 million to respond to the spill and for monitoring, but much of that is going toward stabilization and ongoing drainage at the mine. Reimbursement of state, local and tribal costs is underway, but the tribe has received only a fraction of the nearly $1.6 million doled out to all the parties.

Begaye said Navajo farmers have felt the brunt of the spill. Some crops went unplanted this year and cultural practices such as the gathering of corn pollen were skipped…

He called the actions of the agency, its contractor and the mining companies reckless and reiterated his disappointment that Navajos have yet to receive a phone call or letter of apology from President Barack Obama.

Navajo officials said the government has denied repeated requests for everything from compensation for farmers to resources for long-term monitoring and an on-site laboratory for real-time testing of river water.

“They have not done a thing,” Begaye said during his impassioned address.

While the lawsuit doesn’t include an exact dollar figure for damages the tribe is seeking, Begaye said Navajos are owed “millions” and that the scope of the contamination is still unknown.

A criminal investigation into the spill is being conducted by the EPA’s Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Justice Department, but it’s unclear how long that probe could take.

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

#AnimasRiver: #NewMexico Officials urge EPA to hasten #GoldKingMine response — The Farmington Daily Times

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)
The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

From The Farmington Times (Brett Berntsen):

Local, state and tribal officials gathered at the Sycamore Park Community Center gym in Farmington today for a roundtable discussion aimed at prompting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address lingering concerns from the Gold King Mine spill.

The meeting was convened by U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., who billed it as an opportunity to combine voices and “hold the EPA accountable for damages.” Topping the list of grievances for most parties was the struggle to secure compensation for response efforts and losses in the wake of the spill.

“To this day, many farmers haven’t been reimbursed,” Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said. “That’s been an ongoing battle.”

[…]

Farmington officials also noted that the city has not received full compensation for the $516,000 it spent on spill response measures, including the purchase of a $260,000-sensor system to protect the city’s drinking water supply from lingering contamination in the Animas River. Mayor Tommy Roberts said the city has received $110,000 so far.

Alexis Strauss, acting director of the EPA’s Region 9 office, represented the agency via a video feed. She said the EPA has allocated $3 million to states and tribes for emergency response costs. She said additional claims are currently under review and handled by the U.S. Justice Department rather than the EPA’s regional offices.

“Those decisions are imminent and will be announced very soon,” Strauss said.

According to a retrospective report compiled by the agency for the one-year anniversary of the spill, the EPA has dedicated a total of $29 million toward response measures. Costs include $7.3 million for sampling and analysis, and $5 million for agency personnel. The report states that the EPA is currently in the process of awarding $2 million in grant money to states and tribes for water quality monitoring.

Funding such programs has become a divisive subject between the state and the federal agency. The New Mexico Environment Department has criticized the scope of the EPA’s long-term monitoring plan, pushing for funding to develop its own.

Bruce Yurdin of the NMED’s Surface Water Quality Bureau told officials at the meeting that the department has only received 10 percent of what it considers necessary to study the impact of contaminants released during the spill.

Such disparities prompted the recent lawsuits filed by New Mexico against the EPA, the state of Colorado and several mining companies. Begaye said today that he supports the string of legal actions, and the Navajo Nation is considering filing litigation of its own.

In addition to the issue of restitution, the discussion also delved into methods to address future incidents.

“There’s a large possibility that this could happen again,” San Juan County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said…

As the meeting drew to a close, Rep. Luján asked officials to compile a list of their concerns for submission to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. He said the spill has captured the attention of congress, and efforts to fund response programs have drawn bipartisan backing.

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

#AnimasRiver: The Navajo Nation will receive about $445,000 for field evaluations, water quality sampling, laboratory work and personnel costs

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)
The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

From The Farmington Daily-Times (Joshua Kellogg):

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on Friday it is awarding about $1.2 million in reimbursements to tribal and government agencies in the Four Regions region, including the Navajo Nation, for costs associated with the response to the Gold King Mine spill.

The announcement issued by the EPA came on the one-year anniversary of EPA crews accidentally triggering the release of about 880,000 pounds of heavy metals into a tributary of the Animas River near Silverton, Colo., while cleaning up abandoned mining sites.

According to the press release, the Navajo Nation will receive about $445,000 in reimbursements for costs associated with the response to the spill, including field evaluations, water quality sampling, laboratory work and personnel costs. The tribe previously was awarded about $158,000 by the EPA.

About $710,000 will be distributed to state, tribal and local governments in Colorado and Utah, according to an EPA press release.

The state of New Mexico was not included in the latest round of funding under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, also known as Superfund. New Mexico was previously awarded about $1.1 million in a previous round of funding, according to the EPA’s website…

Some of the response costs included about $130,000 to support the Navajo Nation Emergency Operations Center, about $72,000 to monitor drinking water and haul water, and about $71,000 to support visits by the Navajo Department of Agriculture to investigate possible needs for water and feed for farmers.

According to its press release, the EPA has dedicated more than $29 million to respond to the incident with the majority of the funds dedicated to stabilizing the mine and reducing the acid mine drainage at the Gold King Mine site.

#AnimasRiver: “The history of environmental abuse has caused this distrust of other people’s information” — Rebecca Clausen

BonitaPeak_Fig2_UAnimas

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

In the year since, Chief and her team have worked with Navajo communities, with a particular focus on the Shiprock, Upper Fruitland and Aneth chapters, to understand how the metals in the river may affect their health and how it damaged their perceptions of the river.

“We focused in on the short-term exposure because that was a question the people were really concerned about: ‘What is the risk of using the river?’” Chief said.

After numerous meetings with people, held in Navajo and English, the researchers found people could be exposed to heavy metal contaminates in 40 ways. Some exposure paths were specific to their lifestyle, such as using plants near the river for medicinal purposes. The potential exposure extends beyond the recreational exposure the Environmental Protection Agency had considered, Chief said.

To assess risk, the EPA assumed an adult or child was exposed to river sediment and drinking river water and sediment over 64 days per year over many years – 10 years for a child and 20 years for an adult…

The University of Arizona researchers say not enough information has been gathered to say what the health impacts will be, and they don’t expect to deliver those result for nine months to a year.

They started collecting soil and river samples in November with the help of volunteers before receiving a National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences grant in March. They still need to collect urine and blood samples to see if people have a harmful level of lead or arsenic in their bodies.

“That will give us an idea if it makes sense to monitor long term,” said Paloma Beamer, an associate professor at the University of Arizona who is working on the study.

The data will allow researchers to answer the communities’ questions directly.

These are elements that have been extensively studied and so there is baseline data they can use for comparison, she said.

The researchers will take swabs from inside homes and gather information about residents’ diet to see if the lead and arsenic may come from other sources. For example, the coal some residents’ burn for heat can give off arsenic.

They also expect to take samples from sheep, corn, soil and river and tap water to assess the risk.

“We’re looking for lead and arsenic in everything, to trace the different ways it’s moving through the environment,” Beamer said.

They will use the data and information collected from the people to model what the exposure could be, so they can factor in activities that people are not doing anymore because they changed their habits, Paloma said…

“The history of environmental abuse has caused this distrust of other people’s information,” said Rebecca Clausen, an environmental sociologist at Fort Lewis College, who helped with the focus groups.

In the 1920s and ’30s, the federal government drastically reduced the animal herds of the reservation. From the 1940s through the 1980s, the federal government mined millions of tons of uranium, leaving behind radiation in homes and drinking sources.

So the Gold King Mine spill is just one piece of widespread environmental degradation, she said…

When this portion of the study is finished, Chief plans a three-year study, which is funded by a $600,000 grant.

“It will be really a discussion with the community where they want to go next.” Chief said.

The #AnimasRiver one year after the #GoldKingMine spill (Part 2)

Bulkheads, like this one at the Red and Bonita Mine, help stop mine water discharges and allow engineers to monitor the mine pool. Credit: EPA.
Bulkheads, like this one at the Red and Bonita Mine, help stop mine water discharges and allow engineers to monitor the mine pool. Credit: EPA.

From Colorado Public Radio (Ann Butler):

A federal criminal investigation into the spill is now underway, and local governments and businesses are frustrated with the slow pace of compensation from the EPA one year later.

Matt Wilson, owner and operator of 4 Corners Whitewater, estimates he lost about $30,000 in revenue last year because of the spill. His was one of about six Colorado rafting companies affected from canceled trips and no customers for over a week.

“So after that it was hard to kind of reboot and get people back on the water after all that publicity,” Wilson said.

Wilson is now one of 68 individuals and businesses across Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and the Navajo Nation that filled out financial claims with the EPA.

Samples show water quality on the Animas River has returned to pre-spill conditions and the 2016 summer rafting season has been strong. But Wilson and others are still waiting to hear back on their claims.

Durango City Council member Dean Brookie said his city’s government is in another holding pattern. It spent over $440,000 responding to the spill. The tab includes everything from water-quality monitoring to “personnel that we assigned to the clean-up effort.”

He said Durango’s budget is strong without those funds, but other smaller communities may not have as much in reserves.

EPA Response

Laura Jenkins, an EPA spokeswoman, said the agency continues to work with local governments on reimbursing costs.

“We’re limited by what the regulations allow us to reimburse communities for,” said Jenkins. “They have to meet the requirements that are in the statutes.”

The EPA says laws like the Clean Water Act govern what is reimbursable for communities. Overall it has spent $29 million responding to the spill, with $3.7 million going to local governments to reimburse expenses like overtime pay and local water quality monitoring.

There are other issues that aren’t covered, and in some places like New Mexico, talks have broken down.

“It was just continual failed efforts,” said Tania Maestas, Deputy Attorney General for Civil Affairs in the New Mexico Attorney General’s office.

New Mexico sued the EPA this spring and the state has received $1.64 million from the EPA so far. The agency has made another $5.67 million available in unallocated funds to the state, but Maestas said it only covers a fraction of $130 million in estimated damages. The lawsuit covers everything from water quality monitoring to payment to local businesses for their losses.

“It’s our experience that the EPA met all these requests with either challenges, resistance or delays,” Maestas said about local business owners frustrated with the claims process

Maestas said other states could follow New Mexico’s path to court.

The Navajo Nation may be at the front of that line. Last August, it hired the California law firm Hueston Hennigan LLP to represent its claims. Attorney John Hueston said the firm has pursued multiple avenues resulting in some payment, but at the one year mark he said the window for cooperation is closing and the time for legal action is quickly approaching.

The #AnimasRiver one year after the #GoldKingMine spill

Click here to read the first Coyote Gulch post about the spill.

Click here to view a video retrospective from the The Durango Herald.

Here’s a photo gallery from The Denver Post.

Ann Butler’s article in The Durango Herald explains that the, “Gold King Mine spill recovery better in some areas than others.” Here’s an excerpt:

The full impact of the Gold King Mine spill on Aug. 5, 2015, may not be known for years on any front, and recovery is far from over. And some of that isn’t environmental, governmental or economic – it’s healing invisible trauma in the people and communities affected…

“If there’s good news to a bad news story, awareness of the river, the river basins and how it all works is through the roof,” said Bob Kunkel, executive director of the Durango Area Tourism Office. “Not only from a local level or a Colorado level, but the whole western U.S. level. That is really going to pay some dividends because none of us understood the spillage was ongoing.”

[…]

Real-life lessons
If there was another silver lining to the spill, it was the material it provided for teachers and professors. Several Durango School District 9-R schools, including Durango and Big Picture high schools and Escalante Middle School, Animas High and Mountain Middle charter schools and Fort Lewis College incorporated the spill in science, math and humanities courses.

“As an educator, the event of it inspired me to localize my curriculum, and it was more meaningful to them,” said Jessica McCallum, junior humanities teacher at Animas High. “The students, on reflection, said, ‘Wow, this is really complex.’ Some students are very deeply affected still.”

McCallum’s students interviewed more than 70 people, including second-graders, decision makers and tourism employees, about the spill for Story Corps and met with high school students in Silverton to understand the spill from a different point of view. The interviews are available online, and they tell the story from many perspectives.

Some common themes were: Distrust of and anger at the Environmental Protection Agency, whose workers caused the spill; fear, whether it’s financial, safety or concern for other community members; and, as Kunkel put it, an awareness of the river and the watershed in a bigger picture way.

‘Technological’ disaster
Sad. Betrayed. Devastated. Scared. Grief. Blame. Anger. Hostility.

“There’s a uniqueness to what happened in Durango, but there’s also a pattern,” Fort Lewis College sociology associate professor Rebecca Clausen said. “My experience after the Exxon (Valdez) spill (in Alaska) gave me a good context for not seeing this as an isolated event.”

Social science has identified two kinds of disasters: natural – such as hurricanes, earthquakes and tornados, and technological or environmental – and human-made disasters such as Chernobyl, the BP Deepwater Horizon rig oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the Gold King Mine spill, Clausen said. Communities tend to pull together and heal more quickly from the “acts of God,” she said, but technological disasters can rip them apart and have impacts that last generations…

A group of volunteers, including Clausen and hydrologist Jack Turner, without funding from any governmental agency or nonprofit, took on the task of addressing the mental health stresses on the communities impacted by the spill. Calling themselves the Animas Community Listening and Empowerment Project, they held listening sessions in Durango and Farmington.

“People tend not to go seek out a counselor for this kind of grief or anxiety,” Clausen said. “They’re hesitant to talk about it at the supermarket. We gave them an opportunity and permission to talk.”

[…]

River businesses
“From a tourism standpoint, it’s over,” Kunkel said. “For tourists, it ended like somebody pulled the shade down as soon as the river reopened. They essentially said, ‘All I want to do is get my family on the river, I don’t care about your local hooha.’”

The most affected, Kunkel said, were the river rafting companies.

“We’ll have a better answer in a year or so about how much it impacted us,” said Alex Mickel, owner of Mild to Wild Rafting and Jeep. “I expect it to have an impact for three to five years before it’s totally gone from people’s consciousness, but not catastrophic, not enough to put us out of business, and probably quite small in the third year.”

Two factors helped his rafting business get through, Mickel said, adding that his business is up slightly in June and up in July this year over 2015.

“We were having a really good season before the spill,” he said. “And I’m glad we have a clean and safe river to recreate in this summer, not just for the business but because our kids play in the river, and it’s just part of our lives.”

The big question is what would this summer’s business have been without the spill?

“We’ve had people call and not go because of it or cancel because of it,” Mickel said about this year’s bookings, with tourists concerned about the safety of the river. “But the hardest number to pin down is the people who are not calling. Our business really ties into how the state’s tourism goes, and Colorado is having a banner year. How much of that growth have we missed because of this?”

One indicator is how many people stayed in Durango’s hotels and motels during August 2015. Lodgers tax declined by about 5 percent, but the drop may not be attributable to the spill, Tim Walsworth of the Durango Business Improvement District said when the numbers came out in October 2015. Some of that was because the Labor Day weekend, one of the biggest of the year for visitors, fell totally in September.

Lodgers tax numbers for this summer will not be available until fall, but it has been a good season, Kunkel said…

Ongoing monitoring
Many organizations continue to monitor the river for water quality and health of fish and insects that call it home.

Nonprofit Mountain Studies Institute is collaborating with the city of Durango on Animas River monitoring. One big concern was whether spring runoff would re-suspend the sediment lining the riverbed.

“Our monitoring program aims to understand whether water quality this spring is any different than previous years,” said Marcie Bidwell, institute director, “and if metal concentrations in the river pose any threat to human health, agriculture or aquatic life. Results from the spring samples are encouraging.”

At least twice during the spring runoff, concentrations of manganese and lead, some of the metals contained in the spill sediment still lining the riverbed, surpassed the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment water-quality standards of the Animas River as a source for domestic drinking water. All other results for all other purposes fell below screening levels.

The science is one part of the puzzle, Turner said. Another, individual use of the river, is something unmeasureable, but he believes it is down significantly.

“To see the river like that was piercing, and it made me feel insignificant, really small and helpless, in shock,” he said. “I’m waiting to see the river go down to see if the yellow ‘bathtub’ stain is still there. I don’t know if I’ve put my feet in the river yet, and I keep asking what’s happening to this community if we’re not going to the river?”

The EPA has proposed the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site in the aftermath of the spill and superfund status is warranted according the EPA project manager. From The Durango Herald:

Rebecca Thomas told more than 100 participants at the 2016 San Juan Mining Conference that she expects the Superfund designation to be finalized by this fall.

The sixth annual mining conference, which brings together people involved in mining in the Animas, Rio Grande, San Miguel and Uncompahgre watersheds, was held at the DoubleTree Hotel in Durango

The events of the Aug. 5, 2015, Gold King spill, in which an Environmental Protection Agency-contracted crew caused a release of 3 million gallons of mine wastewater into the Animas River, dominated the discussions.

“Just 363 days ago we were bracing ourselves for a river disaster with a lot of concern,” said La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt in her opening statements. “The color orange now has a whole new meaning for me. Yes, it was a lesson about our mining legacy, but it was also a lesson about our river’s health.”

Durango Mayor Christina Rinderle, too, acknowledged that the anniversary of the spill was a fitting backdrop to the conference, and a chance to provide insight on how communities affected by the event responded…

Speaking around noon, the EPA’s Thomas made the case for Superfund.

Thomas, based in Denver, said she worked in the highly-mineralized mountains around San Juan County about a week each month this summer, with crews sampling on a regular basis.

“Even though the (Superfund) site is just proposed, that hasn’t stopped us from beginning our work,” she said.

Thomas said that although there was resistance to federal intervention for years, she believes the only viable step toward improved water quality in the Animas River is through a Superfund designation.

She argued the federal listing would allow potentially responsible parties, such as mining companies, to be held financially liable for cleanup, and given the scope of the project, only the EPA could provide the funds necessary.

Thomas tried to quell frustrations that it can take more than 20 years for a Superfund to finish.

“This process … is one of the main criticisms of Superfund,” she said. “But we don’t want to wait 20 years to see improved water quality in the Animas, and we’ll take every opportunity we can to fast-track some of this stuff.”

The conference also showed how the spill affected communities around the region, all with a legacy of mining.

Randy Barnes with the San Miguel Watershed Coalition said the EPA recently steered away from remediating a draining mine near Ophir.

“They are not super enthusiastic about going and poking fingers into mines right now,” he said.

Barnes added that the project led by Griswold, which would clean up a mill tailings pile beneath the mine entrance, was canceled for undisclosed reasons.

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott):

Silverton is staging “Super FunDays” this weekend, a play on the Superfund cleanup expected to get underway in the distant future.

It includes “Environmental Pork Agency” sandwiches and a locally brewed India pale ale — or IPA — called EPA IPA.

Here’s where things stand in the aftermath of the spill:

SILVERTON’S PARTY

Bars and restaurants are serving up “EPA Fungi” ravioli, “Orange Creek-sicle” fruit smoothies and other specials for Super FunDays.

Silverton’s Golden Block Brewery brewed 10 gallons of spill-colored EPA IPA.

“It’s unclarified, so it looks kind of muddy, and we added a tiny bit of blood orange,” brewery co-owner Molly Barela said.

A fun run and community party are also planned.

Asked about the jovial tone, town spokeswoman Blair Runion said Silverton went through a long and serious debate before endorsing a Superfund cleanup.

“We need to turn it into something positive that we can embrace,” she said.

The EPA declined to comment, but it will have an information booth at the party Saturday.

Shane Benjamin (The Durango Herald) asks the question, “Who profited from the Gold King Mine Spill? Here’s an excerpt:

…the environmental mishap wasn’t all bad news for La Plata County businesses; in fact, several companies, including motels and restaurants, profited as government agencies opened their pocketbooks to help manage the disaster.

In the two months after the spill, La Plata County government spent $115,000 on goods and services related to the spill, much of which went to local businesses, according to receipts obtained through an open records request.

Several other agencies spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, including the Environmental Protection Agency, which has authorized $23.3 million in spending as of July 15, including reimbursement to local communities but not including payroll or travel expenses. The agency, which triggered the spill, was not able to provide a detailed accounting of its expenses in time for this story, but county expenses provide a snapshot of how local businesses profited during the spill.

The county has received reimbursement for some expenses and is seeking compensation for others.

The county’s first expense occurred on Aug. 6, 2015 – the same day the mustard-yellow water snaked its way through the county – to purchase a case of copy paper for $27.65 from Office Depot. The county made several return trips that month to Office Depot, purchasing $2,020 worth of supplies, including six easels, 12 easel pads, sticky notes, ink cartridges, a wall clock and much more. The county is seeking reimbursement from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The county also purchased hundreds of meals for government employees. They were fed at at least a dozen different restaurants, including Macho’s, J. Bo’s, Carvers, Doughworks, Steamworks, Raider Ridge Café, Serious Texas Bar-B-Q, Rice Monkeys and Hot Tomatoes Café, to name a few. Many of the purchases fed dozens of people, including tabs for $305 at Domino’s Pizza, $517 at Serious Texas Bar-B-Q, $325 at Raider Ridge Café, $400 at Schlotsky’s, and $1,309 for a “thank you lunch” for city of Durango and La Plata County employees catered by Zia Taqueria. The county is seeking reimbursement for the food, including the thank you lunch, from the EPA.

Dozens of snacks and meals were purchased from area grocery stores, including Albertsons, Walmart, City Market and Nature’s Oasis. Receipts suggest some less-than-healthy eating habits, including large quantities of Lays potato chips, candy, doughnuts and soda pop.

The county also picked up several hotel bills, but it appears most employees sought reimbursement from their individual agencies rather than the county, because the county paid only $4,533 to house eight people, according to the open records request. The bills range from $79 a night at the Grand Imperial Hotel in Silverton to $720 for six nights at the Super 8 in Durango.

Several other businesses profited as a result of the Gold King Mine blowout, including:

  • Fast Signs, which charged about $1,125 to make vinyl signs used to close the river.
  • Best Cleaning, which billed $2,522 to clean the La Plata County Fairgrounds after the EPA used it as a headquarters.
  • Durango Party Rental, which charged $746 for a temporary room divider.
  • Durango Joe’s, which charged $45.75 to serve 45 people coffee.
  • But the company that profited the most is Wright Water Engineers, which raked in about $70,000 to provide consulting and water sampling on behalf of the county.

Overall, charges appear to be fairly well spread out between businesses, without a preference for specific vendors, restaurants or grocery stores.

Assistant County Manager Joanne Spina said that is a good thing, but it’s likely a result of luck, preference and necessity rather than policy. Most people don’t want to eat the same meal every day, she noted, so multiple restaurants were visited.

“This was an emergency situation, so I think those decisions were made in the moment by the folks who were needing to acquire whatever the goods or services were,” Spina said.