Mt. Emmons treatment plant deal in the works — The Crested Butte News

Mount Emmons
Mount Emmons

From The Crested Butte News (Mark Reaman):

In what has been described as a “serendipitous” and “interconnected” moment, there could be real headway in a permanent solution to the Mt. Emmons water treatment plant and overall molybdenum mine situation.

While very preliminary, the signals are good that this new path with new players, in part spurred by last summer’s dramatic Gold King Mine release into the Animas River, could bring about substantial changes to the Red Lady situation.

Gunnison County, the town of Crested Butte, several departments in the state, mining giant Freeport-McMoRan and U.S. Energy, the company with rights to the local molybdenum deposit, appear to be headed toward a collaborative deal to upgrade and permanently fund the water treatment plant on Coal Creek and address the idea of a potential mine.

This most recent chapter in a very long story started late last August when the county and the town sent a letter to the state and feds expressing serious concern over U.S. Energy’s ability to maintain the water treatment plant, especially if an accident occurred at the plant. U.S. Energy had been taking a giant financial hit with the decrease in energy prices and it has only gotten worse, with its stock selling this week for under 30 cents a share.

The two local governments sent a letter saying that the environmental and human health consequences of any release of untreated mine drainage are beyond the governments’ response capacity. They asked the Colorado Water Quality Control Division to reopen a permit renewal process for the mine’s discharge permit, which regulates the water treatment plant.

Several state agencies, including the Department of Natural Resources, the Colorado Water Quality Control Division, the State Attorney General’s Office and the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety, set up a meeting in October. Crested Butte town attorney John Belkin, Gunnison County attorney David Baumgarten and special counsel for the town, Barbara Green, met with them to discuss concerns about U.S. Energy and its financial ability to continue operating the plant. By all accounts, it was a positive meeting.

Shortly after that, Freeport-McMoRan, a renowned international copper, gold and molybdenum miner that operates the Climax and Henderson moly mines in Colorado, also came into the picture. While it never had an interest in the molybdenum beneath Mt. Emmons, the company bought Phelps Dodge in 2007. That mining corporation had acquired the company that originally built the water treatment plant. Freeport in essence became tied to the site through a connection of mergers and acquisitions.

How does pharmaceutical pollution affect fish?

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

The Snake River courses through a boulder field near Keystone. Colorado. Traces of medicine in freshwater streams have a wide range of impacts on fish.

New study documents wide range of impacts

Staff Report

Fish exposed to remnant traces of medicines, including pain relievers, muscle relaxants and antidepressants, grow more slowly and have a harder time escaping predators, say scientists who carefully studied the effects of pharmaceutical pollutants.

The study analyzed effects from nine individual pharmaceuticals, as well as varying mixtures of these chemicals, on both juvenile and adult fathead minnows. It was conducted by the Aquatic Toxicology Laboratory at St. Cloud State University and the U.S. Geological Survey, with the findings published in a special edition of Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry.

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#AnimasRiver: Questions remain for mine spill claims process — The Farmington Daily Times

From the Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch is continuing to question the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about the procedure to file claims for damages caused by the Gold King Mine spill.

Branch presented her concerns and issues in a Nov. 18 letter to Avi Garbow, general counsel for the EPA. Her letter, which was released by the tribe on Monday, questions the EPA’s efforts to address claims and recovery efforts for the Aug. 5 spill…

Branch’s letter was in response to a Nov. 3 letter Garbow wrote to the attorney general, which was a reply to two letters Branch wrote in October.

The attorney general stated she was “surprised” by Garbow’s suggestion the EPA has not determined if the Federal Tort Claims Act applies to the spill. The Federal Tort Claims Act is a federal law that permits private parties to sue the United States in federal court for damages committed by individuals acting on behalf of the country.

“This position cannot be squared with the U.S. EPA’s repeated public statements of responsibility for the spill,” Branch wrote.

She added that indecision does not seem to jibe with the EPA’s distribution of Standard Form 95 on the Navajo Nation and on the EPA website.

Branch’s second expressed concern is that the EPA still does not have a process in place to “ensure full, fair and prompt recovery” for the Navajo people and tribe.

She added that Garbow’s letter did not accept the tribe’s proposal to establish an interim claims process and relief fund for tribal members who seek compensation without releasing future claims or those unknown to the claimant.

“I was disappointed to hear your position that the U.S. EPA does not ‘have the ability to establish’ such a process,” Branch wrote.

The attorney general said the tribe is continuing to examine all options, including working with Congress on legislation to improve the process to allow interim claims.

In hopes such congressional action occurs, Branch stated Navajo officials are providing tribal members with claim forms that include language reserving the claimant’s right to file supplemental claims.

She said tribal officials have been talking to individuals who were impacted by the spill, and many of those people have wondered about the need to present documentation to support their claims.

“My concern is that my people may forego submitting legitimate claims because they do not have itemized documentation of every loss,” she wrote.

In concluding her letter, Branch stated she remains committed to working with federal agencies, and she hopes Garbow clarifies statements made in his Nov. 3 letter.

In Garbow’s letter to Branch, he assured Branch the EPA remains committed to cleanup responsibilities and to a long-term monitoring strategy.

He mentioned the EPA is continuing an internal review of events leading up to the spill. In addition, the agency received the results of an independent evaluation by the U.S. Department of the Interior and is waiting for the release of a review by the Office of Inspector General.

“The findings and conclusions of these reports and investigations, once complete, will be carefully reviewed by EPA’s Claims Officer in order to assess the applicability of the FTCA for purposes of paying legitimate claims against the United States for money damages arising from the Gold King Mine incident,” Garbow wrote.

He added it is “not unusual” for claimants to need additional time to assess damages, and the Federal Tort Claims Act allows claimants up to two years to file a claim.

Garbow wrote the EPA does not have “the ability to establish an interim claims process by amending the Standard Form 95,” which was requested by the Navajo Nation.

“I am also committed to exploring and considering all options to seek means of providing compensation as allowed by law for legitimate money damages arising from the incident, both within the Navajo Nation, and in other impacted communities,” Garbow stated in the conclusion of his letter.

Bottom of Animas River at Durango August 8, 2015 via Twitter and The Durango Herald
Bottom of Animas River at Durango August 8, 2015 via Twitter and The Durango Herald

Construction resumes on Fountain Creek through Pueblo

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Work is resuming on a dangerous portion of Fountain Creek through Pueblo.

The Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing a $750,000 project to install articulated concrete blocks — held together by cable in a mat and anchored to the ground — along the Fountain Creek bank near the 13th Street Exit on Interstate 25.

Work should be complete within three months and Pueblo contractor Pate Construction is doing the work while flows are low.

The project started in April, but was interrupted by heavy rains in May and June that increased flows on the Fountain to well above normal for more than six weeks. Waters only recently receded to the point where workers could get in the channel.

Fountain Creek will be temporarily rechanneled to the east of the area while work is underway, said Jeff Bailey, assistant city manager for stormwater.

The area had been secured by a gabion — wire-wrapped rock — which washed out during the September 2013 flood on Fountain Creek.

Fountain Creek hits the bank at a right angle at 13th Street, threatening railroad tracks and roadways in the area. While the Corps is responsible for the work and funds it, the city is the sponsoring agency and coordinates such things as local permits and access, Bailey explained.

There are several other projects still in the planning stages to repair damage from this spring’s flooding, Bailey said.

The city will be removing the debris such as large trees that were deposited at the Eighth Street bridge in the near future. “We need to get that clear so the water doesn’t start undermining the supports,” Bailey said.

The city is also working on restoring trails and repairing the berm at the flood detention pond behind the North Side Walmart.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Department of Transportation is working on projects to repair the Colorado 47 bridge and the trail in that immediate area, as well as clearing debris at the East Fourth Street bridge.

Silverton, San Juan County leaders say ‘Let’s talk Superfund’ — The Durango Herald

Bonita Mine acid mine drainage
Bonita Mine acid mine drainage

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.

A “get well soon” balloon floats in the contaminated waters of the Animas River flowing through Durango on Monday afternoon August 10, 2015 -- photo The Durango Herald, Shane Benjamin
A “get well soon” balloon floats in the contaminated waters of the Animas River flowing through Durango on Monday afternoon August 10, 2015 — photo The Durango Herald, Shane Benjamin

Colorado Springs faces possible action from the EPA over stormwater permit violations

Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

Colorado Springs repeatedly has violated its water quality permit and now faces a potential federal lawsuit, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has warned the city.

The EPA inspected 14 sections of the city’s stormwater system Aug. 18-19 and found “continuous failure” to meet standards or remediate problems highlighted in a state audit conducted Feb. 4-7, 2013.

Problems cited include inadequate funding, infrastructure problems, insufficient inspections, “not holding developers’ feet to the fire,” a lack of internal controls and too many waivers, Mayor John Suthers said Monday.

The city’s federal MS4 permit (for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) requires adherence to water quality standards. While drinking water is not at issue in this report, Suthers said, heavy sedimentation and other problems were reviewed in detail.

No city official denies the long-term neglect. But the irony is rich.

Since he took office six months ago, Suthers repeatedly has vowed that $19 million a year will be spent on stormwater improvements. That has the City Council’s full support, and $16 million for stormwater has been carved out of the mayor’s proposed 2016 budget, with $3 million to come from Colorado Springs Utilities.

So the city finally is poised to address a problem that has been worsening since at least 2008. The recession kicked in that year, and the city’s Stormwater Enterprise Fund was dismantled a year later, “a bad, bad combination,” Suthers noted.

Voters in 2009 backed Issue 300, a measure weakening the city’s use of enterprise funds. In response, City Council eliminated the stormwater fund. It had six inspectors at the time; today the staff has about three.

The timing couldn’t have been worse. The Waldo Canyon Fire struck in 2012, and the burn scar contributed to widespread flooding in 2013 that exacerbated already severe problems with Fountain Creek, Monument Creek and other tributaries.

Tim Mitros, until recently the city’s Stormwater Division manager, has been widely lauded for his response to those disasters and for his diligence on stormwater issues.

Homeowners cited his vigilance and daily visits in May, when record-breaking rainfall led to landslides that endangered two Rockrimmon houses. He also oversaw updates last year to the city’s antiquated, two-volume Drainage Criteria Manual for developers.

Now the city is advertising for a new stormwater manager. Why? “I don’t know. You’ll have to talk to Travis Easton,” Mitros said.

“We’ll be introducing accountability where it wasn’t before,” said Easton, who became Public Works director in August 2014. “We recognized long before this report came out that we had issues to address.”

Said Suthers, “We need to up our game in stormwater, and that’s what’s going on there.”

But he also noted: “If you really dig deep (in the report), the problem of inadequate manpower doing inspections” is evident.

The city has retained Broomfield-based MWH Global consulting engineers to review the EPA report and “propose how to move forward to settle this,” Suthers said.

The EPA encourages settlement discussions but says any settlement must be done through a consent decree by U.S. District Court with a schedule for injunctive relief and payment of an appropriate civil penalty.

In January, city officials will meet to negotiate with representatives of the EPA, U.S. Department of Justice and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. (EPA and CDPHE officials working on the issue referred calls to their communications staff representatives, who did not return requests for comment.)

Suthers said the city hopes to obtain a waiver on penalties and avoid litigation.

The city has been negotiating for months with Pueblo County, which has threatened legal action, too, over the severe problems downstream users have experienced because of Colorado Springs’ inadequately controlled stormwater.

At risk is the 1041 permit that the county issued to city-owned Colorado Springs Utilities for its Southern Delivery System, a massive water project set to deliver up to 50 million gallons a day of Arkansas River water to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

Without the permit, CSU can’t turn on the tap for SDS.

But downstream users have incentive to let the project begin: $10 million a year for five years that the system will pay to the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District to build even more stormwater projects.

Instead of lawsuits and penalties, Suthers said, “We would rather spend money trying to solve the problem. We’re hoping both Pueblo and the EPA have some realization that we have a council and mayor that realize you can’t kick the can down the road any farther.”

#AnimasRiver: Superfund on the way for Cement Creek

The Animas flows orange through Durango on Aug. 7, 2015, two days after the Gold King Mine spill. (Photo via
The Animas flows orange through Durango on Aug. 7, 2015, two days after the Gold King Mine spill. (Photo via

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliot):

Southwestern Colorado officials said Friday that they are ready to talk to the Environmental Protection Agency about a federally financed Superfund cleanup of inactive mines, including one that spewed millions of gallons of wastewater and polluted rivers in three states this summer.

It would be an important step toward cleaning up hundreds of idle mines that have been pouring acidic wastewater into the Animas River north of Silverton for years. No laws required mine operators to mitigate environmental damage, and in many cases, the owners simply walked away when mining ceased.

“It’s a direction we’re heading in,” San Juan County Administrator Willie Tookey said of a Superfund designation…

“There really isn’t another process out there that could provide the financial resources for the environmental mitigation that’s needed,” Tookey said.

The Silverton Town Board and San Juan County commissioners are expected to vote Monday on resolutions that would formally open discussions with the EPA and state officials on a Superfund designation.

The EPA and the state have said they would not initiate a Superfund cleanup unless residents agreed.

Town and county officials visited four existing Superfund sites in Colorado this month and found that the process could be difficult but successful.

“When it’s all said and done, the improvements wouldn’t have been able to happen without Superfund, and ultimately it was worth the effort,” Tookey said.