From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler/Jonathan Romeo):
San Juan County commissioners and Silverton Town Board trustees on Monday voted unanimously to direct city staff members to pursue a Superfund listing with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to clean up leaking, inactive mines north of Silverton.
“We need to do what’s best for the town, the county, the environment and our downstream neighbors,” Silverton Mayor Chris Tookey said after the meeting, “and at this point, it appears (the National Priority List) will provide the most comprehensive cleanup in the shortest time frame.”
Last week, when Silverton officials announced they would propose the motion, it seemed to have unanimous support after they had toured several Superfund sites in Colorado with La Plata County commissioners and Durango city councilors. Part of their decision will be based on a promise from the EPA that the designation would not include the area inside the Silverton town limits.
“We approved staff and our attorney Jeff Robbins to engage in talks,” said Silverton Trustee Pete Maisel, who, along with San Juan County Commissioner Scott Fetchenhier, will serve as liaisons for the project of requesting a ranking on the Superfund National Priorities List.
The two governmental entities haven’t set any deadlines, and they don’t expect it to be a quick negotiation, he said.
“We’re hoping the Colorado public health department will take the lead on this,” Maisel said…
On Thursday, Silverton officials admitted the EPA’s hazardous cleanup Superfund program has many drawbacks – with uncertainty over funding, the potential for mistakes and inevitable clashing of opinions – but ultimately, they said, it’s the only viable option to improve water quality in the Upper Animas River Basin.
After the Superfund tour two weeks ago, San Juan County commissioners and Silverton Town Board trustees expressed a tangible shift of opinion toward Superfund. The listing has been largely supported by downstream communities.
“Over the last 25 years, (the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) and EPA have learned a lot about how to conduct these cleanups,” Tookey said. “After talking with people in other communities, we feel it is appropriate to engage in conversations with the two agencies about listing.”
From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):
The decision puts the community closer to clean-up of the scores of abandoned mines that dot its surroundings and have been leaching contaminants into the Animas River watershed for more than a century.
“It’s a big step,” said Pete Maisel, a town trustee. “We are going to get the ball rolling.”
The news comes less than two weeks after representatives from Silverton and San Juan County spent three days touring four of Colorado’s largest mine Superfund sites as part of a fact-finding mission.
Leaders say the tour helped them decide to start working toward implementing Superfund.
Maisel and county Commissioner Scott Fetchenhier were elected to represent the Silverton community in talks with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment…
“We’ve done a lot of research, and it appears at this time that the national priorities list is the best way to get these mines cleaned up quickly,” Ernie Kuhlman, chairman of the San Juan County board of commissioners, said in a statement. “All of us — Silverton, San Juan and our downstream neighbors — want something done immediately.”
“We have a lot of hard conversations ahead of us about what this all will look like,” he added. “We want those talks to start as soon as possible.”
From the Associated Press via the Farmington Daily Times:
Silverton and San Juan County leaders voted unanimously Monday to direct city staff members to pursue a Superfund designation with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The tourism-dependent community has been wary of seeking a Superfund designation for nearly two decades, fearing stigma and red tape. Officials say a tour of four Superfund sites this month changed their minds, showing them that the process could be difficult but successful.
Silverton Mayor Chris Tookey told The Durango Herald that it appears that route would provide the most comprehensive cleanup in the shortest amount of time.
“We need to do what’s best for the town, the county, the environment and our downstream neighbors,” Tookey said after the vote.