As the Denver Post’s Jesse Paul reports this afternoon, bringing a decades-long controversy in Colorado’s high country full circle:
Attorneys for Silverton and San Juan County are in the process of drafting a letter to Colorado’s governor in support of Superfund cleanup for its leaching, abandoned mines.
While the request still must be approved by the town’s elected officials next week, the action represents the most significant move since the Gold King Mine spill in August prompted cries for a large-scale federal intervention.
“It’s a giant step,” said Bill Gardner, Silverton’s town administrator.
For two decades, Silverton rebuffed federal Superfund dollars, fearing negative economic impacts, bureaucratic red tape and stigma. But now the town is signaling that it’s working to obtain a national hazard priority listing as soon as possible.
As the Durango Herald’s Mary Shinn reports, the much bigger population centers down the Animas River from Silverton need no convincing:
The Durango City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday supporting a Superfund designation for mines above Silverton.
“I think everyone in Durango and Animas River watershed has been concerned,”said Councilor Dick White, referring to ongoing water quality issues…
States are responsible for funding 10 percent of the construction of a Superfund remediation project, EPA officials told the county in September.
If ongoing water treatment is necessary, Colorado could be responsible for covering those costs, unless a responsible party, such as a company, is found.
The shift from steadfast opposition to acceptance of the large-scale resources that the Environmental Protection Agency can bring to bear with a Superfund designation by the local governments in Silverton and San Juan County completely changes the long-term outlook for cleaning up the Animas River watershed, into which mines have been discharging wastewater contaminated with heavy metals for many years before and after the end of mining operations in the area. Previously, a combination of resistance to the “stigma” of a Superfund designation combined with a latent desire by small-time and corporate mining interests to resume production resulted in decades of stonewalling against effective remediation–stonewalling while the mines above them steadily filled with polluted water.
The EPA’s remediation crew that punched through the entrance to the Gold King Mine in August, unleashing a torrent of millions of gallons of polluted water into the Animas River, was not trying to force the issue of cleaning up these mines, and it has been determined pretty conclusively that mistakes were made by this crew that directly caused the spill. But without the kind of comprehensive cleanup operation that only the full resources of the federal government can undertake, that spill was bound to happen sooner or later. In the aftermath, even as Republican politicians jumped at the chance to gratuitously bash the EPA for this spill, everybody on the ground knew that the bigger problem wasn’t with the EPA.
Today, the long list of EPA detractors, from the area’s Congressman Scott Tipton to Durango grandstanding Ben Carson (and let’s not forget the Utah lawmakers who hatched a full-blown conspiracy theory) are not available for comment.