#AnimasRiver: Senators seek repayment for mine spill 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 Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

A half dozen U.S. senators are backing an amendment to expedite federal reimbursements to states, tribes, local governments and individuals for expenses incurred during the Gold King Mine spill.

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., led the effort on Monday with senators Tom Udall, D-N.M., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and John McCain, R-Ariz., in introducing an amendment to a Senate bill for the Water Resources Development Act.

In addition, the amendment calls on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to work with states, tribes and local governments to develop and implement a water quality program to monitor the rivers contaminated by the Aug. 5, 2015 spill…

The water quality program would be responsible for collecting water samples and sediment data, and releasing that information online for the public’s review, according to the amendment.

In a joint press release on Monday, the senators said they support holding the EPA accountable for the spill, and they emphasized that reimbursements to government entities and individuals are needed.

Udall said reimbursements to state and tribal governments “have taken far too long,” and the amendment will start the reimbursement process.

“It also takes important steps to help rebuild confidence in the quality of the water in the San Juan and Animas rivers through long-term monitoring,” Udall said.

Heinrich called the rate to repay individuals “unacceptable.” He also called for action to reform “outdated policies” to clean up contaminated mines in the West and on tribal lands.

“Western communities deserve full and complete protection of their water, land and livelihoods,” Heinrich said.

The bipartisan effort received support on Wednesday from Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, who continued his calls for reimbursing Navajo farmers.

Begaye said in a press release that funds received as a result of the amendment would be used to build a laboratory in Shiprock that would be used to study the water quality of the San Juan River.

“This amendment sets forth funds to be provided for monitoring of the San Juan River and irrigation canals. We need for our farmers to be confident that the water quality is irrigable,” the tribal president said.

#AnimasRiver: Bennet and Gardner hope to push payments from the EPA #GoldKingMine

This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]
This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Colorado senators Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican, joined Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, John McCain, R-Arizona, and Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, in endorsing the measure, according to a news release…

In a prepared statement, the senators said they hope to push the Environmental Protection Agency to cover costs incurred beyond Oct. 31, 2015, which the agency said it would not do, barring extenuating circumstances.

The measure would require EPA to pay all costs eligible for reimbursement unless the agency proves that the amount is not consistent with what is mandated under federal law.

If approved, EPA would have 90 days to pay out claims and give notice whether the agency will pay within 30 days of reaching a decision. It would also establish a water quality-monitoring program, which the EPA would reimburse local agencies to operate.

“It’s been more than a year since the Gold King Mine spill, and it’s unacceptable that the EPA still hasn’t fully reimbursed Colorado communities for their costs,” Bennet said in the prepared statement.

“The communities in southwest Colorado paid out of their own pockets to maintain drinking water, provide for extra staffing costs, keep the public updated, provide water for irrigation and monitor water quality. This amendment ensures that the EPA fully reimburses these communities and works collaboratively to institute a robust long-term water quality monitoring plan.”

Reimbursements to entities affected by the Gold King Mine spill, for which the EPA has taken responsibility, have trickled in since an agency-contracted crew released a massive plume of mine wastewater more than a year ago…

According to EPA records, the agency has paid more than $5.2 million in costs associated with the Aug. 5 blowout, but local agencies say outstanding costs remain unpaid.

San Juan County (Colorado) administrator Willy Tookey said the EPA has paid more than $250,000 (EPA records show $269,196) to the county and town of Silverton, yet $90,000 remains outstanding.

Megan Graham, public affairs officer for La Plata County, said the county has received $172,000 in costs, and is waiting for an additional $87,000. EPA records indicate $369,578 has been paid out to La Plata County, and it was unclear Monday why there is a discrepancy.

The city of Durango, too, says it’s due more money, having been paid $45,410 of its $444,032 request. Finance director Julie Brown said the city was notified Monday that the EPA intends to pay $101,465.

Local companies and individuals impacted by the spill also are caught in the EPA’s waiting game for reimbursements.

As of July, the EPA received 68 claims for financial reimbursements, yet the agency has not made any awards. The EPA has maintained it must conduct all reviews and investigations before awarding grants for financial damages.

It was unclear Monday what the 68 filings totaled in cost amount. However, a response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed in October, when there were just over 30 filings, showed claims of financial damages surpassed $1.3 million.

Those who believe they have been financially damaged by the EPA-triggered event have until Aug. 5, 2017, to file a Form 95, the claim process for financial reimbursements from economic loss caused by wrongful U.S. government actions.

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill update: Cotter to pay ~ $1 million for EPA oversight

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):

Cotter Corp. has agreed to pay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency nearly $1 million to cover past costs the government agency incurred while working at the Superfund site during a two-year period.

The Cotter Corp. oversees a now-defunct uranium mill just south of Canon City which has been on the EPA’s Superfund cleanup list since 1984. Officials are in the process of decommissioning the mill.

The agreement requires Cotter to pay EPA $957,604 for past oversight costs, incurred between 2012 and 2014. Funds are required to be paid to the EPA by Sept. 23 and will be placed in a special account and used to pay for any future costs at the site, according to Richard Mylott, EPA spokesman.

Public comment submitted in June urged the EPA to seek full restitution.

“The EPA believes the settlement is in the government’s best interest. The EPA will immediately recover $957,604 in past response costs that will be used to fund EPA’s future work at the site and avoid potentially protracted expensive litigation,” according to the 19-page settlement agreement.

One public comment submitted indicated it is difficult for the public to weigh-in on the agreement because government documents were not made available to assess what the total cost of oversight has been to the EPA. Certain EPA billing documents were not made public because of confidential business information which protects the documents from being released under the Freedom of Information Act, according to the agreement.

In a separate agreement, penned in June 2014, Cotter Corp. has agreed to pay EPA’s costs for oversight of the mill’s cleanup into the future.

Cotter produced uranium oxide, or yellowcake, at the mill in Fremont County from 1958 until 2006. Contamination to groundwater and soil resulted from the use of unlined impoundment ponds to hold tailings between 1958 and 1979.

In addition, a June 1965 flood caused the impoundments to overflow into Sand Creek, releasing contaminates into the nearby Lincoln Park neighborhood, Mylott explained.

Cotter officials have been working to clean up contamination since 1988.

#AnimasRiver: #GoldKingMine nears Superfund designation

From The Colorado Independent (Eliza Carter):

The Environmental Protection Agency decided this week that the Gold King Mine near Durango is a top priority for Superfund designation. The mine, which was abandoned in 1923, spilled about 3 million gallons of mustard hued, toxic sludge into the Animas River in August 2015 and continues to leach today.

The agency added the Bonita Peak Mining District, which includes Gold King, to its National Superfund Priorities List, meaning that congressional approval is the only remaining obstacle to Gold King becoming a Superfund site. The designation would unlock millions of dollars for the EPA to investigate and address years of contamination.
Environmentalists, however, aren’t optimistic about swift action from Washington.

Erica Brown, a spokeswoman at the Durango-based environmental group San Juan Citizens Alliance, called Congress “wholly uninterested in acting.” Brown noted that the area around Gold King receives funds for cleanup under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980, so cleanup will continue, but Superfund money is still out of reach.

The fact that it took more a year after the spill to access Superfund dollars has some wondering why there wasn’t a swifter federal reaction. According to Brown, it was actually a rapid response by the standards of federal bureaucracy. The EPA only considers sites for National Priority listing twice a year – and Gov. John Hickenlooper asked that they do so for Gold King’s district last winter.

The agency then assessed the district’s needs and held a public comment period. Wednesday’s announcement marked the end of the review process, which actually took less time than usual.

Overall, Brown said that the spill helped to highlight the gravity of the mining industry’s legacy in Colorado. State estimates put the number of abandoned and inactive mines in Colorado at about 17,000. But Brown says that, in the past, the potential hazard those mines presented wasn’t perceived with urgency. “A lot of folks in the downstream communities did not understand how bad the problem really was, so was there very little engagement.”

Now, public opinion research shows that Coloradans are more concerned about their waterways in the wake of the mine spill. According to a poll conducted by Chism Strategies in Colorado, 67 percent of Coloradans say they want their elected officials to do more about cleaning up mines.

Of particular concern is the fact that Gold King is still leaking. On the one-year anniversary of the spill, the mine was estimated to be spewing 500 gallons per minute into the river, which serves as a backbone for the region’s economy and way of life. It’s an alarming number, but not cause for alarm, thanks to mitigation efforts from the EPA. The agency installed a treatment plant at the mine in the wake of last year’s spill, so the water emerging from the mine is not likely to cause environmental damage.
While the Gold King disaster grabbed the country’s attention, environmentalists say it’s only a symptom of a much more widespread and grave problem. Some are looking ahead to wholesale reform of the mining industry and mining clean-up – but there are serious challenges.

At issue is the fact that taxpayer-funded government agencies are often on the hook for the impacts of mines abandoned by private companies, which is permitted by mining law from 1872, just before Colorado gained its statehood. Sen. Michael Bennet introduced legislation in November 2015 that would reform how the law works, but it has not yet been voted on in the Senate.

Brown expressed profound frustration about congressional apathy, saying that elected leaders are “more concerned with making the mining industry happy than they do the American people.”

Gold King is among ten other toxic sites being added to the priorities list, including a plastic manufacturing site in New York and a lumber site in Florida.

#AnimasRiver: Updated EPA National Priorities List includes #GoldKingMine

From the Engineering and Mining Journal:

This week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added three mining-related sites to the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites. These include the Bonita Peak Mining District (BPMD) site in San Juan County, Colorado; the Argonaut mine, Amador County, California; and the Anaconda Aluminum Co.’s Columbia Falls Reduction Plant site, also known as the Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. (CFAC) site, in Columbia Falls, Montana.

The law establishing the Superfund program, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), requires the EPA to update the NPL at least annually and clean up hazardous waste sites. The designation comes a little more than a year after the EPA released 3 million gallons of water from the Gold King mine into the Animas River fouling rivers and lakes from Colorado to Nevada. The Gold King mine is one of several abandoned mines in the Bonita Peak district…

The lawsuits stemming from this mishap are just now coming to a head. The state of New Mexico, however, is suing the state of Colorado, claiming it approved the plans that led to this situation.

The Bonita Peak Mining District site consists of historic and ongoing releases from mining operations in three drainages, which converge into the Animas River near Silverton, Colorado. Water quality in the BPMD has been impaired by acid mine drainage for decades. Since 1998, the state of Colorado has designated portions of the Animas River downstream from Cement Creek as impaired for heavy metals, including lead, iron and aluminum. The EPA has waste quantity data on 32 of Bonita Peak’s 48 sources. These 32 sources have waste rock and water discharging out of 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.

#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

#AnimasRiver: Remediation of mine sites around Silverton become a priority — The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday its will add the district of mines around Silverton to its National Priorities List as a Superfund site this week.

In a press release, the EPA said it would add the “Bonita Peak Mining District” – a group of about 50 mine waste sites in San Juan County – to the NPL on Friday.

“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,” Shaun McGrath, EPA’s regional administrator, said in a prepared statement.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

EPA officials said they’ll announce the prioritization of these sites along Animas River headwaters above Silverton – “the Bonita Peak Mining District” – in the federal register on Friday. These are among 10 new sites nationwide targeted for cleanups — dependent on Congress providing funds. The federal Superfund program involves investigating and cleaning up the nation’s worst environmental disasters to protect human 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,” EPA regional administrator Shaun McGrath said in a prepared statement.

“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.”

The district consists of 35 dormant mines, seven tunnels, four heaps of tailings and two study areas — sites located along Mineral Creek, Cement Creek and the Upper Animas. These waterways flow into the Animas River just below Silverton…

EPA data on 32 sources in the area, discharging contaminants at a combined rate of 5.4 million gallons per day, identify contaminants including cadmium, copper, manganese and zinc.