EPA Bonita Peak Mining District superfund team lays out 2016 work plan

From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):

Environmental Protection Agency officials say by next month they intend to provide La Plata and San Juan counties a list of tasks it expects to complete in 2016 at the proposed Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site.

“Next month, we could provide a more comprehensive briefing on 2016 activities, where we will collect data and figure out what questions that data will answer,” Superfund project manager Rebecca Thomas said in a brief meeting with Durango city councilors and La Plata County commissioners Thursday afternoon.

The rest of the year includes plans for a hydrology study to evaluate risks to human health and water quality as well as an evaluation of historic and cultural resources in the area.

Thomas said the sampling will answer the question of which mining sites, if any, can be quickly remedied and removed from the National Priorities List, such as those contributing to Mineral Creek, which is less complex than the areas surrounding the Upper Animas River and Cement Creek.

Thursday’s meeting was largely a repeat of information from the EPA, though local officials had questions and comments about the process.

“There are a lot of people in Durango concerned it could happen again,” City Councilor Sweetie Marbury said, referring to the EPA-triggered Gold King Mine spill on Aug. 5 that ejected 3 million gallons of metal-laden water into regional watersheds.

“How will you identify the risk areas to prevent another spill happening?”

Thomas said one of the leading priorities for the Superfund team will be to examine draining adits to assess their structural stability.

Thomas said the EPA is deciding whether to expand the Gold King Mine treatment facility to treat other nearby drainage sources.

The Bonita Peak Mining District near Silverton contains 48 mine-related sites and was recommended for placement on the Federal Register for Superfund designation on April 7. The EPA now seeks comments from the public, which can be submitted online at the EPA Superfund Program Bonita Peak Mining District page.

The Superfund managerial team will return for updates the week of May 23.

Meanwhile, Animas River pollution has many sources. Here’s a report from Jonathan Romeo writing for The Durango Herald

With much of the recent focus on the Cement Creek drainage, the major sources for metal loading into the reaches of the Upper Animas River remain a bit of a mystery for researchers.

Yet Sunnyside Gold Corp.’s four massive tailings ponds along the Upper Animas River – about a mile northeast of Silverton, above the confluence with Cement Creek – have long been under suspicion.

“From Arrastra Gulch down to Silverton, there is a substantial amount of metal loading, and it’s not clear where that is coming from,” said Peter Butler, a coordinator with the Animas River Stakeholder’s Group. “The sources are not as identifiable as Cement Creek.”

From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, miners routinely dumped any by-product from metal extraction directly into rivers or lakes throughout the highly productive Silverton caldera.

In the 1930s, Sunnyside began hauling ore from Gladstone through Silverton and up what is now County Road 2 to the Mayflower Mill for processing. Only 5 percent of the ore contained precious metals.

The leftover 95 percent of waste rock, which usually contained heavy metals that included cadmium, copper and lead, was dumped beside the mill until 1992. The four piles now stretch about a mile and a half.

Sunnyside over the years has conducted numerous projects to reduce the leeching of metals into the Upper Animas, including covering the piles with clay to reduce the entry of water and digging diversions to prevent groundwater from seeping into the ponds.

Still, high concentrations of metals continue to load, according to data collected by the stakeholder’s group. Butler said in March and April, more concentrations of metals can enter the river along that stretch than all the loading that discharges from Cement Creek, considered the worst polluter in the mining district.

On Tuesday, Silverton native Larry Perino, a spokesman for Sunnyside, revealed the results of sampling conducted last year during high-flow and low-flow points to the stakeholder’s group.

Water samples taken within the tailings pond showed levels of cadmium, copper and six other metals that exceeded Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment standards. Within the Animas River along that stretch, cadmium and copper were the only metals in excess.

However, the results leave many gaps for researchers characterizing the watershed. Testing occurred only a few days in May and September, and neglected the historically high period of metal concentrations that occur in March and April.

When questioned, Perino doubted the veracity of the historical data and cited the company’s tight time frame for testing. He later added those months would have been difficult to take samples given the inclement weather.

“I think it’s impossible (to draw conclusions) unless you’re out there weekly,” said Perino, adding the company has no further plans to test this summer.

Regardless, the next steps for remediating the tailings ponds are unknown. The site, owned mostly by Sunnyside, a subsidiary of mining conglomerate Kinross, is included on the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Superfund listing, raising uncertainty over jurisdiction and responsibility. Sunnyside, one of the region’s largest and longest running mining operations, could be targeted as a potentially responsible party, despite years of undergoing voluntary cleanup projects aimed at being cleared of further liability.

“Right now, there are no formal agreements between EPA and Sunnyside,” said Rebecca Thomas, the EPA’s manager for the Superfund site. “So if they chose to collect data, that’s certainly their prerogative. We’ve had a cooperative relationship historically, and I think that will stay.”

Doug Jamison with the state health department said it’s too early to draw conclusions on just how much Sunnyside’s tailings contribute to the overall metal loading in the Animas watershed.

“I think there’s a lot of evaluation that needs to be done,” he said. “On the other side of the valley, there are also some potential sources.”

Indeed, of the 48 mine-related waste sites included in the Superfund listing, nearly 30 are along the stretches of the Upper Animas.

Perino said testing was done at Howardsville, above the tailings, to compare how water quality changed during its flow downstream, but he did not have that information available.

In the coming summer months, the tailings – designated a National Historic Landmark in 2000 – will be the subject of further scrutiny.

“In general, I think people were hoping (Tuesday) for a more definitive answer,” Butler said. “But I think what we learned is that it’s a difficult thing to figure out.”

#AnimasRiver: “…shift here from skepticism toward energetic stewardship” — The Denver Post #GoldKingMine

Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River from the Coyote Gulch archives (11/21/2010)
Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River from the Coyote Gulch archives (11/21/2010)

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Animas River headwaters contamination exceeds state standards for cadmium, copper, lead and other toxic acid metals draining from inactive mines, officials from the Environmental Protection Agency and Sunnyside Gold Corp. revealed Tuesday.

Until now, federal pronouncements after the EPA-triggered Aug. 5 Gold King blowout touted a return to pre-disaster conditions along the river.

But the move toward an ambitious Superfund cleanup of 48 mine sites in southwestern Colorado has catalyzed cooperation and a far more aggressive, comprehensive and precise approach toward acid mine drainage.

At Tuesday’s Animas River Stakeholders Group forum, locals along with EPA and Sunnyside officials all said they now find those “pre-spill conditions” intolerable. Fish haven’t been able to reproduce in the Animas for a decade, even 50 miles to the south through Durango.

Beyond the Gold King and other Cement Creek mines, “there are elevated levels (of heavy metals) in all three drainages” flowing into the Animas, said Rebecca Thomas, the EPA’s project manager. “It is a much broader look now.”

[…]

EPA officials this week are holding forums in tribal communities, Durango and Silverton to discuss their Superfund process, which usually drags out for more than a decade. An official listing of the Animas area as a National Priority List disaster, a step toward funding for cleanup, isn’t expected until fall.

The shift here from skepticism toward energetic stewardship is reflected in more community groups demanding, and in some cases conducting, increased testing of river water and sediment to monitor contamination.

The Mountain Studies Institute, a Durango-based research group, did an investigation of aquatic insects that live in sediment on river banks and found that copper levels increased between 2014 and 2015.

Sunnyside Gold Corp. manager Larry Perino presented data from tests of mining wastewater launched last fall on the day of the Gold King disaster. Contractors sampled on Sunnyside properties a couple of miles east of Silverton — a different drainage from Cement Creek — where mining waste tailings sit along the main stem of the upper Animas.

Those tailings as water rushes over them apparently are leaking the cadmium, copper and six other metals at levels exceeding Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment standards. The cadmium and copper had dissolved into Animas headwaters.

Sunnyside shared the data at Tuesday’s meeting in Silverton.

Dan Wall of the EPA then presented federal data showing lead contamination of soils along Cement Creek and in water near the tailings heaps containing elevated cadmium, zinc, manganese and copper.

EPA crews have done tests around Animas basin for decades and increasingly are trying to pinpoint mine site sources of contamination.

“We have to do more high-resolution work before we start talking smoking guns,” Wall told the locals at the forum.

A broadening cooperation is happening despite EPA efforts to target Sunnyside, owned by the global mining giant Kinross, as a responsible party obligated to pay a share of Superfund cleanup costs.

“Just because you are a potentially responsible party doesn’t mean it has to be adversarial,” Perino said.

Conservation groups such as Trout Unlimited have raised concerns about possible re-churn of heavy metals from the 3 million-gallon Gold King deluge as snow melts, increasing runoff into the upper Animas. But biologists also point to benefits of dilution to reduce concentrations of dissolved heavy metals.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist Jim White confirmed that, since the shutoff of a water treatment plant on Cement Creek in 2005 when Sunnyside’s American Tunnel was plugged, fish populations deteriorated along a 30-mile stretch of the Animas south of Silverton.

There are few rainbow and brown trout today, and brook trout decreased by 80 percent after 2004, White said.

“It is not healthy. Things have gotten worse in the Animas River since 2004 or 2005,” he said. “We’ve seen this consistent dropoff — the primary thing is the dissolved metals” including zinc, cadmium and aluminum.

Even 50 miles south in Durango, the fish put into the river in stocking programs have not been able to reproduce, he said.

“We’re just not seeing young fish surviving, in Durango as well,” White said.

Other forces, such as sediment from urban development and fertilizer runoff, also play a role downriver in addition to acid metals drainage from inactive mines.

Hundreds of inactive mines continue to drain more than 1,000 gallons a minute of toxic acid heavy metals into Animas headwaters. It is one of the West’s worst concentrations of toxic mines.

For at least a decade before the Gold King disaster, the mine drainage reaching Animas canyon waters along a 30-mile stretch south of Silverton “had a hideous impact,” Trout Unlimited chapter president Buck Skillen said.

“We’ve lost almost all of the trout and a number of bugs,” Skillen said. “We’ve had the equivalent of the Gold King spill every four to seven days over the last 10 years. But the water didn’t turn orange. So it wasn’t on everyone’s radar.”

Nelson Tunnel/Commodore Rock Pile Superfund Site update — EPA lawsuit

Commodore waste rock superfund site Creede
Commodore waste rock superfund site Creede

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Federal and state officials have agreed in principle to a $6 million settlement with a mining company to recover cleanup costs at the Superfund site just north of town.

A proposed consent decree with Denverbased CoCa Mines was filed in U.S. District Court in Denver Thursday.

The proposal would still be subject to a 30-day public comment period and the approval of the court.
Through last June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had spent $10 million on the Nelson Tunnel/Commodore Waste Rock Pile Superfund site.

More than half of that money went toward the stabilization of the waste rock pile and the reinforcement of the West Willow Creek channel that runs along side it during an emergency response in 2008 and 2009.

In a complaint filed the same day as the proposed consent decree, EPA alleged that a company operating under a joint venture partnership with CoCa had sent 500 tons of mine waste onto the waste rock pile and contributed to its destabilization.

The complaint also alleged that CoCa inherited liability for the site when it bought out its former partner in 1989 and thereafter failed to conduct cleanup.

CoCa Mines owned and operated in an area that’s now part of the Superfund site from 1973 to 1993.
Cleanup work at the Superfund site has come to a halt while EPA conducts a feasibility study on potential remedies for the Nelson Tunnel, which is responsible for the majority of the contaminants in West Willow Creek.

One potential option would involve the dewatering of the collapsed tunnel, although it would be dependent upon the initiation of mining by Rio Grande Silver at the nearby Bulldog Mine. The tunnel, completed in 1902, was used to drain and ventilate mines along the Amethyst vein, while also providing a route to haul ore out of the mines.

EPA initiates lawsuit over Nelson Tunnel/Commodore Mine Waste Rock Pile Superfund Site

From The Denver Post (Kirk Mitchell):

The Environmental Protection Agency has sued a mining company operating in Mineral County in federal court to recoup hazardous waste cleanup costs.

The U.S. sued Coca Mines Inc. for cleanup of hazardous substances in the Nelson Tunnel and the Commodore Waste Rock Pile Superfund Site.

The superfund site is in the San Juan Mountains less than 2 miles from the town of Creede. Shafts were dug in a series of hard-rock silver mines operated between 1889 and the 1980s tapping the “Amethyst Vein.” Horizontal tunnels also were bored, including the Nelson Tunnel.

The Nelson Tunnel is partially collapsed but continues to drain acid runoff.

The Commodore Waste Rock Pile, just outside the entrance of the Nelson Tunnel, included a water conveyance system that failed around 1995, releasing mine waste containing heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium, lead, manganese and zinc into West Willow Creek.

The creek flows into the Rio Grande River 4 miles below the site.

In 2008 and 2009, the EPA conducted waste removal studies at the waste pile site.

The EPA is now in the process of completing a feasibility study of remedial actions for the site.

Through June 30, 2015, the EPA incurred nearly $10 million in costs. Some of those costs were covered by the Asarco Environmental Trust.

The lawsuit says the discharge each day from the Nelson Tunnel into Willow Creek carries 375 pounds of zinc, 1.37 pounds of cadmium and 6.39 pounds of lead. Zinc levels have hit 25,000 parts per billion, hurting fish reproduction for more than 4 miles down to a confluence with the main stem of the Rio Grande, where dilution eases the impact.

#AnimasRiver Water Quality at Rotary Park, Durango, Colorado — Mountain Studies Institute #GoldKingMine

animasriverrwaterqualityatrotaryparkmoutainstudiesinstitutecover

Here’s the release from the Mountain Studies Institute:

The fact that people in the community noticed when the Animas River was distinctly yellow-brown in color on February 15, 2016 reflects a heightened awareness of changes in water quality since the Gold King Mine release. Warm temperatures in mid-February initiated the first increase in runoff since last fall’s storms, picking up sediment in the process.

Mountain Studies Institute (MSI), a nonpartisan independent research station, has been monitoring water quality of the Animas River since before, during, and after the Gold King Mine release. MSI received lab results back from water quality samples collected from the Animas River at Rotary Park on February 15, and March 1, 2016.

“These samples are the first in a series of sampling that will occur as part of a monitoring program that aims to understand changes in water quality during 2016 storm events and spring runoff” said Scott Roberts, MSI’s aquatic ecologist. The monitoring program is part of a partnership between MSI and the City of Durango to convey Animas River water quality information to the public.

“Because we know that people are curious to see the data, MSI has posted water quality monitoring results and an explanation of those results on our website, http://www.MountainStudies.org” said Marcie Bidwell, MSI’s director. “By posting updated information on our website, we hope to keep the public informed as the season progresses. Links will also be available on the City’s website, http://www.durangogov.org.”

Results from the spring samples indicate some encouraging news. Metals of concern for human health (Arsenic, Lead, and Mercury) and those thought to be most harmful to aquatic life (Copper, Zinc, and Selenium) were found to be at levels considered safe by Colorado Department of Health and the Environment (CDPHE) water quality standards. All metals analyzed from these two spring samples were at levels considered safe for agriculture and domestic water supply use (based on CDPHE water quality standards). Additionally, all metals were below Environmental Protection Agency’s recreational screening levels, which represents the level at which no adverse health effects are expected to occur in humans consuming 2 liters of filtered water per day, from the Animas, orally, for 64 days each year for a total of 30 years.

However, the yellow-brown color of the Animas River at Rotary Park in Durango on February 15th did contain high levels of certain metals. Concentrations of Aluminum and Iron surpassed chronic water quality standards set by CDPHE to protect aquatic life from persistent, long-term exposure to metals. The brief exceedances of chronic water quality standards from one sample on one day do not necessarily indicate potential harm to aquatic life unless these levels persist continuously over a 30-day period.
The visible yellow or orange color of the river is mostly Iron and Aluminum. Iron particles of various sizes are suspended in the water column. Other metals, such as Zinc, readily bond to the Iron particles.

“MSI’s data supports the conclusions of local, state and federal partners that, from a public health standpoint, this year’s spring runoff is unlikely to be different from previous years. Monitoring and notification procedures are also in place to notify the public if conditions change.” said Liane Jollon, executive director of San Juan Basin Health (SJBH). “SJBH advises the public that it is always good practice to wash with soap and water after exposure to any untreated body of water, including the Animas River. Further information and more health tips for river users are available on our website at http://sjbhd.org/public-health-news/animas-river-health-updates/.”

In a partnership with the City of Durango, MSI plans to continue to monitor the water quality of the Animas River throughout 2016, focusing on understanding chronic exposure to aquatic life before runoff, during runoff, and into the summer season.

Please keep in mind that these observations are from only one location (Rotary Park in Durango) on the Animas River and may not be indicative of the entire Animas River watershed.

Visit http://www.MountainStudies.org to learn more about MSI’s monitoring efforts and results.

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott):

Runoff from autumn storms kicked up the levels of some contaminants in a southwestern Colorado river after a massive spill of toxic mine waste, but concentrations of other pollutants declined or didn’t change, researchers said Friday.

A report released by the Environmental Protection Agency could offer clues about what will happen to the Animas River this spring and summer when melting snow from the San Juan Mountains makes the waterway run higher, potentially stirring up pollutants that had settled to the bottom after the spill.

But the researchers said they couldn’t be sure that the pollutants they measured came from the Gold King Mine — source of the 3-million-gallon spill last August — or if they were from other mines that riddle the area. They also said they didn’t have enough historical data to know whether storms that hit after the Gold King spill stirred up more pollutants than ones before it…

Most of the metals settled to the bottom of the Animas before reaching the San Juan River in New Mexico, the EPA said. Experts have differed on whether and how much those metals will be stirred up when river flows increase after storms and from the spring snowmelt.

The nonprofit Mountain Studies Institute in Silverton monitored the river for the EPA in Durango, Colorado, about 60 miles downstream from the mine, and compiled a report.

Seven storms increased the flow of the Animas in Durango between Aug. 9 and Oct. 26. Concentrations of six contaminants increased after some of those storms, including aluminum and copper, the institute’s report said.

Levels of mercury and five other contaminants decreased after some storms, while the levels of seven others didn’t change.

State water officials don’t expect floods or above-normal flows in the Animas this spring and summer. The San Juan Mountain snowpack that melts into the river was only 66 percent of the long-term average on Friday.

Even if a weekend storm drops up to 2 feet of snow on the San Juans as predicted, it probably won’t be enough to cause the Animas to flood, said Kevin Houck, chief of watershed and flood protection for the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

#AnimasRiver: Gov. Hickenlooper, members of federal delegation send letter to #EPA requesting additional support

Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper and members of Colorado’s federal delegation yesterday sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy asking for additional support for the Bonita Peak Mining District. Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, and Congressman Scott Tipton joined Hickenlooper on the letter in support of the local communities including the Towns of Silverton and Durango, San Juan and La Plata Counties.

“As part of Superfund designation process, we reiterate the importance of addressing the concerns expressed by the Town of Silverton and San Juan County and that cleanup moves forward in a way that works for all affected localities,” said Hickenlooper.

Specifically, the letter urges the EPA to expand the scope and planned timeline to operate the temporary water treatment plant on Cement Creek as well as provide adequate funding and collaborate with local governments, tribes, and the state to conduct long-term monitoring along the Animas River and at sites of specific concern to each community. The letter also reiterated support for an expedited claims and reimbursement process for the communities.

Click here to read the letter.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Gov. John Hickenlooper, Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton this week asked EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for extra support — emphasizing the EPA role triggering the Aug. 5 Gold King disaster.

They’re demanding that the EPA ensure sufficient funding for cleanup as promised, that Silverton and nearby communities get a seat at the table as promised, and robust interim cleanup of creek water as promised.

“We urge you to prioritize funding for this project as soon as possible to restore the health of the Animas River watershed, protect public health, and maintain the local recreation and tourism economy,” Hickenlooper and the lawmakers said in a letter to McCarthy.

While EPA officials have proposed a priority listing of mine sites around Silverton and say they’ll treat the Gold King cleanup like any other site, the Colorado leaders insisted that “the EPA must recognize its role in the most recent spill and its subsequent obligation to this community.”

They contend a temporary treatment plant on Cement Creek “may not operate” beyond this fall and that “this facility has the ability to treat more of the acid mine drainage in the watershed.”

They asked EPA officials to expand the scope of those water-cleaning operations, to be continued until overall cleanup is done, and to speed up reimbursement of costs that towns, counties, tribes and businesses incurred due to the 3 million-gallon deluge — caused by botched EPA efforts to drain the Gold King Mine.

“We also have heard significant concerns from local communities that the current water quality monitoring on the Animas River is not sufficient,” the letter said. “It is likely that spring runoff will remobilize the sediments and metals deposited during the spill. … The EPA must provide adequate funding. … The funds pledged to date by EPA for these needs are insufficient.”

Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress continue to harass the EPA. Here’s a report from Matthew Daly writing for the Associated Press via 12NewsNow.com:

Senate Republicans vowed Tuesday to issue a subpoena to force the head of the Environmental Protection Agency to appear at a field hearing in Phoenix next week on a toxic mine spill that fouled rivers in three Western states and on lands belonging to two Native American tribes.

Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso said the Senate Indian Affairs Committee will vote Wednesday on a plan to subpoena EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

Barrasso chairs the Indian Affairs panel, which is conducting an April 22 hearing on the 3-million gallon spill at Colorado’s abandoned Gold King Mine. The Aug. 5 spill contaminated rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, as well as in the Navajo Nation and Southern Ute Reservation.

If approved, the subpoena would be the first issued by the Indian Affairs panel since 2004, during the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. Abramoff was a prominent Republican lobbyist who pleaded guilty to charges including conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion in the purchase of gambling cruise boats. He spent 3 and 1/2 years in prison…

Barrasso said the EPA has been “reckless,” first in causing the spill and then in failing to address it.

“They took their eye off the ball,” Barrasso said of the EPA. “They caused this toxic spill and now they are still not focused on cleaning up the mess they caused.”

An EPA spokeswoman said Tuesday that McCarthy was never invited to attend the hearing; an official who oversees emergency management was asked to testify.

In a letter to the committee, the EPA said it will make two high-ranking officials available to testify, including Mathy Stanislaus, an assistant EPA administrator who originally was invited to testify. Stanislaus initially said he had a scheduling conflict. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter Tuesday night.

Spokeswoman Melissa Harrison said earlier that the agency has agreed to provide written testimony for the hearing, scheduled for Earth Day.

McCarthy testified before the Senate Indian Affairs and Environment committees on the spill last year.

Barrasso called the agency’s initial response another indication that the EPA “has grown too big, too arrogant, too irresponsible and too unaccountable” to the American people.

“On Earth Day, the EPA ought to be there to confess the failures of the (Obama) administration” to those affected by the spill and specify “what they are going to do to correct it,” Barrasso said.

Barrasso cited news reports indicating that McCarthy is likely to be among U.S. officials joining Secretary of State John Kerry in New York at an Earth Day ceremony to sign a global climate change agreement reached in Paris last year. The agreement calls for the U.S. and nearly 200 other countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming.

McCarthy would rather be in New York “talking about what happened in Paris instead of going to Arizona to face the people who her agency has abandoned,” Barrasso said. “That’s what she thinks is more important.”

McCarthy plans to spend Earth Day in Washington, Harrison said.

The EPA recently announced it would spend $157,000 to help the Navajo Nation recover costs incurred during the response to the Gold King spill. The money is in addition to more than $1.1 million spent by the EPA in response costs for the Navajo immediately following the spill.

The EPA has awarded the Navajo more than $93 million in grants to develop environmental and infrastructure programs, Harrison said.

Photo via the @USGS Twitter feed
Photo via the @USGS Twitter feed

#AnimasRiver: Bonita Peak Mining District superfund site?

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

From the Associated Press via the The Colorado Springs Gazette:

Republican Rep. Scott Tipton said Thursday a Superfund cleanup would be overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which caused an August mine spill that prompted the cleanup.

Tipton says it would be better to fund the effort another way. He didn’t offer specifics.

The EPA on Wednesday proposed adding the Gold King Mine and other sites to the Superfund list. Officials in Silverton and San Juan County and Gov. John Hickenlooper have endorsed it.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

A cluster of 48 mining sites near Silverton, including the Gold King Mine, is expected eventually to find a spot on the National Priorities List of the nation’s worst disasters threatening public health and the environment.

But the EPA’s process requires this first step, followed by a period for comments. There’s no guarantee listed sites would receive funding for cleanup.

“I’m excited. This shows our work negotiating with the EPA is paying off,” Silverton town administrator Bill Gardner said. “It shows they are true to their word that there’s going to be a commitment from them, and that we are going to move forward quicker rather than slower.”

[…]

“The agency will follow the same process at the Bonita Peak Mining District as for all other proposed NPL sites,” spokeswoman Christie St. Clair said.

The priorities list serves as a basis for enforcement actions against potentially responsible polluters and for securing cleanup funds. For 35 years, the Superfund program has run on the principle that polluters should pay for cleanups, defraying costs to taxpayers. EPA officials hunt for parties legally responsible for contaminating a site and try to compel them to cover cleanup costs.

“The process is moving forward,” said Peter Butler, coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, which since 1994 has worked to stop contamination from hundreds of leaking inactive mines.

“Hopefully, actual metal reductions to the river happen sooner rather than later,” Butler said…

Gov. John Hickenlooper in February backed up southwestern Colorado residents in requesting EPA action to address the Gold King and other inactive mines contaminating headwaters of the Animas River — water that flows into New Mexico, tribal nations, Utah and eventually the Grand Canyon toward California.

“We are pleased the EPA proposed adding the Bonita Peak Mining District to the National Priorities List (NPL). This is a crucial next step in making the region eligible for necessary resources and comprehensive cleanup efforts under EPA’s Superfund program, but our work is not done,” Hickenlooper said Wednesday morning.

“We are working with the EPA to ensure that adequate funding for this site is provided, including immediate interim measures and options to mitigate any further water quality deterioration. We are also working to ensure state and local officials continue to have an active role and that there is robust and significant community involvement,” he said.

“Lastly, we continue to support efforts by our congressional delegation to reach consensus around ‘Good Samaritan’ legislation, which is one of the most significant tools at our disposal to allow for voluntary cleanups of draining and abandoned mines.”