#AnimasRiver: Durango sends letter to Colorado governor in support of Superfund — The Durango Herald

Animas River through Durango August 9, 2015 photo credit Grace Hood
Animas River through Durango August 9, 2015 photo credit Grace Hood

From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):

Mayor to meet Friday with Hickenlooper

As Silverton and San Juan County officials continue struggling with the terms of Superfund designation, Mayor Dean Brookie said the city of Durango sent a letter this week to Gov. John Hickenlooper supporting National Priorities Listing for a Silverton-area mining network, pointing to concerns about water quality for Durango residents.

“What Durango needs might be different from what Silverton needs,” Brookie said. “This is not to upstage Silverton in any way, but the 20,000 people on our water system, compared with the repairs needed on our water system, creates vulnerability for next summer. This is a way to make sure we have a safety net in the event of another spill.

“This is fairly urgent on our part, and independent of Silverton action.”

[…]

Last month, the La Plata County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution of support for Superfund designation. Commissioner Julie Westendorff has expressed in public meetings that she thinks La Plata County should take a supporting role to Silverton’s lead, though Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said she would support sending pro-Superfund communication to the governor ahead of Silverton.

However, all commissioners are unanimous in their support for Superfund.

Brookie said he will meet with the governor on Friday to discuss Durango’s needs.

#AnimasRiver: Silverton’s vote on Superfund letter won’t happen this week as planned — The Denver Post

From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):

Silverton’s elected leaders will not decide this week on whether to approve a draft letter to Colorado’s governor supporting Superfund cleanup for the area’s leaching, abandoned mines…

Lawyers representing the two groups have been working to finalize language in the letter in the best interest of the community. Specifically, leaders want to clarify boundaries of any federal cleanup sites, reimbursement for costs incurred by the town and assurances any impacts will be mitigated.

“The talks are proceeding slower than we had hoped and while we have made good progress, the team is not ready to present a package to the county commissioners and town board this week,” said Mark Eddy, spokesman for the town and county. “There are still important details to be worked out.”

On Tuesday night, the group working on the letter will present to the town council members and county commissioners and the public will have an opportunity to ask questions and comment…

“The team is continuing its discussions with the state and EPA and everyone is working hard to try make the timeline so if there is a decision to move forward the site can be considered for listing by the EPA in March,” Eddy said.

The Animas flows orange through Durango on Aug. 7, 2015, two days after the Gold King Mine spill. (Photo via www.terraprojectdiaries.com)
The Animas flows orange through Durango on Aug. 7, 2015, two days after the Gold King Mine spill. (Photo by Esm Cadiente http://www.terraprojectdiaries.com)

Silverton officials hold Superfund hearing Tuesday ahead of Thursday vote — The Durango Herald

Silverton, Colo., lies an at elevation of 9,300 feet in San Juan County, and the Gold King Mine is more than 1,000 feet higher in the valley at the left side of the photo. Photo/Allen Best
Silverton, Colo., lies an at elevation of 9,300 feet in San Juan County, and the Gold King Mine is more than 1,000 feet higher in the valley at the left side of the photo. Photo/Allen Best

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

It’s going to be a busy and potentially landmark week for the town of Silverton as officials look to stamp a letter addressed to Gov. John Hickenlooper requesting Superfund status by Thursday.

All this week, Silverton Town Trustees along with San Juan County Commissioners will enter final negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency over its hazardous cleanup program with the hopes of a final vote on Thursday. The town will also hold a public hearing Tuesday.

“We’re negotiating the next 20 to 30 years of our county,” said Silverton Town Trustee Pete Maisel. “So it’s weighing pretty heavy on our shoulders.”

[…]

Despite local efforts, the long-inactive mining district has degraded water quality in the Animas River to the point that the presence of trout has all but disappeared in the 25-mile stretch downstream from Silverton, with 3 out of 4 species now gone.

But when the EPA accidentally triggered the Gold King Mine blowout in August, the sight of a disturbing bright-orange river cast a normally unseen problem into the spotlight of public attention. For Silverton officials under pressure from downstream communities, few options were left aside from a Superfund status.

“There’s really no other program out there with the financial resources to take care of the necessary remediation for this area,” San Juan County Manager Willie Tookie said in November. “Superfund is pretty much it.”

The EPA considers polluting sites for its National Priorities List twice a year: once in March and again in September. To be considered this spring, Silverton officials must send a letter to Hickenlooper, directing the governor to request Superfund status.

Throughout negotiations, three main points of contention have emerged: the boundaries of the Superfund designation; the promise of federal funding; and the name of the Superfund project.

“This is not going to be a fast solution, but we’re also not dragging our feet,” Maisel said. “Negotiations are going well, we’re working hard on it.”

#AnimasRiver: EPA, CDPHE face local blitz on superfund fix for #GoldKing disaster — The Denver Post

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 Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Colorado mountain residents blitzed EPA and state officials with questions about cleanup of inactive mines, deeply mistrustful after the EPA-triggered Gold King disaster yet largely leaning towards a superfund approach to stop contamination of Animas River headwaters.

Nearly 50 gathered for a first public meeting Wednesday night in Silverton after local elected leaders held closed talks exploring possible federal help.

“If we do go down this process. … what assurances do we have that we’ll have funding to go into the remedial phase?” San Juan County Commissioner Pete McKay asked, leading off questioning.

“Are we just going to have more and more meetings?… We want to see some action,” Commissioner Ernest Kuhlman asked.

Among life-long residents of the area, contractor John Richardson, 68, a fly fisherman, said he favors a broad multi-basin cleanup. “I wouldn’t mind seeing mining come back, but I want to see it all cleaned up,” he said outside the town hall.

In the talks, the Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials and local elected leaders reached agreement on a goal of cleaning up Animas headwaters and that the town of Silverton would not be included in a possible disaster designation to launch a superfund cleanup – a key local demand.

But the EPA and locals disagree as to whether an EPA-run cleanup would include just upper Cement Creek — the local preference — or other basins where acidic, metals-laced drainage from inactive mines drains into the Animas River.

The scope of a National Priority List designation was a big part of the talks, said EPA’s Johanna Miller, regional director of superfund site assessment, in an interview.

“We’re all agreed the town of Silverton would not be included, because that is a soils issue, not a water issue,” Miller said. A broader cleanup, beyond Cement Creek to include the Eureka Basin area just east of Silverton, may be necessary, she said. “Limiting it to one basin might not achieve the water quality improvements.”

[…]

While EPA officials favor a broad National Priority List designation, Silverton and San Juan County officials have been raising local concerns such as the potential for truck damage to Silverton’s streets and housing for workers they say the EPA would need to provide. And residents widely are worried about timing. “Do you think the remedial process will happen in our lifetimes?” ski businessman Grady Ham asked in the meeting. Superfund cleanups typically run for decades, limited by congressional funding.

Silverton and San Juan County officials have pressed for a narrow environmental disaster designation, covering only the upper Cement Creek area where the Gold King, Red and Bonita, Mogul and Sunnyside and other inactive mines are located, about seven miles north of Silverton. Gov. John Hickenlooper would have to request any designation — by early February if EPA officials are to consider it for a listing this year.

EPA and CDPHE officials have said it’s too early to discuss details of any remedy because the EPA and CDPHE would have to conduct a remediation investigation and a feasibility study.

The EPA set up a temporary water treatment system near the Gold King and Red and Bonita mines to filter out and neutralize heavy metals in settling ponds.

Whether or not to seek an official environmental disaster designation is a question that vexes residents of Silverton (pop. 500), an icy mountain hamlet beneath dozens of old mines leaking acidic metals-laced waste into creeks, which also contain natural concentrations of minerals. And residents’ ambivalence was clear as they asked about whether property owners could be prosecuted and whether, since the EPA caused the Gold King Disaster, the agency would be charged with running a water treatment plant in perpetuity.

“It looks like we don’t have any other choice” but to seek a federal Superfund cleanup, said Vicky Skow at the Kendall Mountain Cafe. “We need the money to clean up, or people won’t come to town.”

[…]

Among those opposed to a Superfund cleanup is Todd Hennis, owner of the Gold King Mine and of land near the former town of Gladstone where the EPA has set up the temporary water treatment system.

The latest “The Current” newsletter is hot off the presses from the Eagle River Watershed Council

Colorado River in Eagle County via the Colorado River District
Colorado River in Eagle County via the Colorado River District

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Progress made during 2015 set to help improve watershed

The Eagle River, its tributaries and streams and the 55 miles of the Colorado River that runs through Eagle County are directly related to our economic wealth. A healthy watershed means a strong tourism economy, the main driver in our area. And it’s not only about the money. The water attracts wildlife — moose, bear, eagles and foxes frequent our waterways. It’s drinking water for our entire
community. It is important that the visitors and residents of Eagle County understand this, and also understand the threats to and condition of our watershed, especially as the population grows. The more each of us knows about the issues affecting our watershed, the more able we are as a community to take steps as needed. At the policy making level, awareness will help our representatives make educated and responsible decisions.

Eagle River
Eagle River

This year was a busy year for Eagle River Watershed Council. One exciting accomplishment was launching new projects on the 55 miles of the Colorado River in Eagle County, each recommended in the 2014 Colorado River Inventory and Assessment. Among these are restoration projects that foster new alliances with the ranching community. Through collaborative efforts with private landowners, federal agencies and other nonprofit organizations, we have improved the health of this stretch of the Colorado River and provided an example of
progressive environmental attitudes toward the watershed.

Gore Creek
Gore Creek

GORE CREEK IMPROVEMENTS
Deserving recognition at year end is the town of Vail for its efforts along Gore Creek. The town of Vail is committed to improving the health of its gold medal stream. In 2015, Vail completed the Gore Creek Water Quality Improvement Plan and has moved forward with the implementation phase of the program. Key components of the plan are to revise land-use regulations, repair damaged sections of the riparian zone and work with Colorado Department of Transportation to improve stormwater runoff systems near Interstate 70. Vail has identified 42 restoration projects and 61 stormwater runoff enhancements. Eagle River Watershed Council is excited to be working with the town of Vail to implement revegetation projects that will serve as examples of beautiful, river-friendly landscaping. The Watershed Council will continue to lead the Urban Runoff Group to create similar action plans for downstream communities.

Eagle Mine
Eagle Mine

MAKING DIRTY WATER CLEAN AGAIN
While the images from the Gold King Mine Spill shocked us, the reality is that amount of acid mine runoff is spilled into Colorado’s mountain streams every two days from thousands of abandoned mining sites. We’ve seen what the Eagle Mine is capable of doing to our river when left unchecked. In fact, this is where the Watershed Council has its roots. Every minute, 250 gallons of acid mine runoff flow into a water treatment plant in Minturn created solely for the treatment of Eagle Mine water. The plant removes an astounding 251 pounds of metals each day. The Watershed Council’s diligent efforts have held the responsible party accountable and have helped to develop a strategy to prevent a major event like the one in Silverton.

The Basin of Last Resort has been a problem for years. This is the pond on Vail Pass which catches traction sand from I-70 and prevents it from migrating into Black Gore Creek, a tributary to the Gore. The basin has reached a critical level more than once, and the permitting process to remove the sand has been cumbersome in the most bureaucratic sense. The Watershed Council is helping CDOT to design and implement a plan that allows more efficient access to the basin so that it can be cleaned more regularly. This approach will likely not be implemented until 2017, but the end result will be a long-term solution.

The Watershed Council is fortunate to have an incredibly-competent staff, expert consultants and a compassionate board of directors to guide it. But it is the support of the Eagle County community that allows us to succeed; the individuals and businesses who donate, the municipalities, the volunteers. We have a dedicated and reliable group of people who regularly attend our events. We thank you for your continued participation and want to let you know that there is always room for more. Please join us as a volunteer or at our Watershed Wednesday educational series, where we discuss and dissect relevant water topics. Also, if you share our values, then please donate or contact us about aligning your business with the Watershed Council’s Business Partner Program.

Eagle River Basin
Eagle River Basin

La Plata County tests for elements not previously sampled at #GoldKing Mine — The Durango Herald

Gold King Mine entrance after blowout August 2015
Gold King Mine entrance after blowout August 2015

From The Durango Herald (Shane Benjamin):

The study was done in September by Wright Water Engineers on behalf of La Plata County government. The analysis found results similar to those reached by the Environmental Protection Agency, but the independent analysis screened for elements that had not been sampled by the EPA, including radium and uranium.

Both the EPA and Wright Water Engineering collected surface water and sediment samples in September at a location about 50 feet inside the Gold King Mine. At the request of La Plata County government, Wright Water Engineering analyzed EPA’s samples to see if it drew similar results.

Overall, water quality and sediment sampling results were consistent with EPA findings…

Wright Water Engineering’s sediment sample detected not even one part (0.149 pCi/g) of uranium-238, which is the most common uranium isotope found in nature and can be used in nuclear weapons. By comparison, the EPA regional screening level for residential exposure for uranium is 155 pCi/g, according to the Wright Water Engineers report.

Radium concentrations also did not exceed the 1.1 pCi/g national average found in soil across the country, the report concluded.

Neither the EPA nor Wright Water Engineers found detectable amounts of cyanide, dioxins, furans, PCBs, volatiles, semivolatiles, thallium or chromium.

EPA samples contained concentrations of lead and arsenic above national drinking water standards, but the samples were taken upstream from a water treatment plant near the mine. The water treatment facility appears to be effectively treating discharged water, as water quality in the Animas River has generally returned to “pre-spill” conditions, the Wright Water Engineers report says.

“As expected, there are elevated concentrations of metals in the adit water and sediment samples, many of which exceed regulatory screening levels,” the report concludes. “However, the non-metal and radionuclide parameters analyzed in this report do not occur in concentrations exceeding regulatory limits.”

#AnimasRiver: La Plata County OKs agreement with EPA on mine spill remediation — The Durango Herald

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 (Jessica Pace):

A 10-year cooperative agreement in which the Environmental Protection Agency provides $2.4 million for remedial efforts related to the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine spill received unanimous support from La Plata County Board commissioners on Tuesday.

EPA officials have until Feb. 1 to sign off on the agreement, which includes eight tasks for ensuring the future health and safety of the county’s residents and environment. Those include continued work with Wright Water Engineers, which has conducted for the county an analyses on the Animas River’s health, independent of the EPA.

Other initiatives include a real-time water-monitoring system to alert the county of changes in water quality, developing a response plan for future environmental incidents and hiring a contractor for community outreach – to explain pre- and post-spill data to the public.

The county has accomplished one of the tasks, which is to investigate the feasibility of a Superfund designation for the Silverton area.

County Manager Joe Kerby will serve as recovery manager and oversee, with other county staff, the implementation of the agreement.

A complete draft of the cooperative agreement can be found on the La Plata County website.

The $2.4 million, to be spent over 10 years as the plan is carried out, is an estimate, and it would be allocated as needed.

The EPA has reimbursed about $200,000 to the county for expenditures between Aug. 12 and Sept. 11.

Cement Creek aerial photo -- Jonathan Thompson via Twitter
Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

Commissioners unanimously agreed Tuesday to postpone until January a vote on an official statement of support of a Superfund designation for the Upper Cement Creek Basin.

“I’d like to continue this pending action from Silverton and San Juan County,” Commissioner Julie Westendorff said…

Silverton and San Juan County officials will meet again with the EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in early January.

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