From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):
The Environmental Protection Agency said Friday morning, specifically, it is mobilizing contractors to shore up the mine’s opening and the waste rock pile just outside the adit. The operations are expected to continue through October.
“We anticipate that the interim water treatment plant (below the Gold King) will continue to capture and treat any discharge from the mine,” the EPA said in a news release. “However, should any of this work impact downstream watersheds, EPA will notify stakeholders.”
The work will include installing steel bracing and concrete, the removal of waste sludge stored in the mine’s temporary water treatment plant and an analysis of how to move forward with water treatment in the long run.
With the beginning of the new initiative, the EPA is signaling it has heard the complaints of communities downstream of the mine who say they weren’t notified quickly of the Gold King disaster. The agency says it has an expansive notification plan in place to prevent any further communication issues.
Perhaps the biggest focus, however, of downstream stakeholders has been the still-leaching mine’s temporary water treatment plant. Officials have been worried about the EPA’s commitment to keep open the facility, which has been running since October.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, Sen. Cory Gardner and local leaders for months have urged EPA officials to commit to keep this temporary plant running, and maybe expand it, until a federal Superfund cleanup of old mines is done.
The plant’s future, as of Friday, remained an unknown though the EPA said it has committed to taking a hard look — including public input — about how to proceed in the long-term. The plant will continue to operate as officials investigate alternatives.
Meanwhile the House of Representatives passed a funding bill for mine cleanups today. Here’s a report from Kate Magill writing for The Durango Herald. Here’s an excerpt:
The bill, introduced by Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., would create the Energy and Minerals Reclamation Foundation, which would be tasked with obtaining and using funds for the cleanup of abandoned coal mines, hard-rock mines and onshore oil and gas wells.
Hice’s legislation is part of a three-part bill package introduced to address abandoned mine cleanup. The other two bills include the Mining Schools Enhancement Act and the Locatable Minerals Claim Location and Maintenance Fees Act, which also includes good Samaritan language that was added by Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez.
The Foundation Act specifically refers to mines that are located on federally managed lands. If created, the foundation would be a nonprofit corporation that would not be associated with an agency or government establishment. It would be led by a board of directors appointed by the Interior Department secretary.
The purpose of the foundation would be to obtain and administer private donations to be used for the “activities and services of the BLM,” according to the bill. In addition to the cleanup of abandoned mine sites and oil and gas wells, these activities include caring for wildlife habitats, National Conservation Lands, and cultural, recreation and historical resources. The foundation would also raise money for educational and technical resources to help with the management of the Bureau of Land Management.
Though Tipton supported Tuesday’s passage of the Foundation Act, he believes it is just the first step in the process of reclaiming abandoned mines, and it needs to be followed by the passage of good Samaritan legislation, according to Liz Payne, a spokesperson for Tipton.
Payne said it is a positive step to raise money to do site cleanup, but good Samaritan groups need liability coverage, a key component of the language Tipton added to legislation. Such coverage would protect groups that have the technical expertise to reclaim abandoned mine lands from being held completely liable for unforeseen problems such as a mine blowout.
Hice introduced the bill in part because of the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine spill, so that more private sector resources could be dedicated to cleanup efforts.
“By incorporating private sector policies and procedures, H.R. 3844, the Bureau of Land Management Foundation Act, revamps and improves the cleanup of contaminated water in abandoned mine sites,” Hice said in a statement following the passage of the bill.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where it has been assigned to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
There is little opposition to Superfund designation for the Bonita Peak Mining District according to Dan Elliot writing for the Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette:
A proposal to deploy the powerful Superfund program to clean up leaky Colorado mines — including one that unleashed millions of gallons of wastewater last year — isn’t stirring up much passion, despite formidable resistance in the past.
Some people who live in the scenic southwest corner of the state feared a Superfund designation would scare off vital tourist traffic, even though dormant mines have been belching poisonous wastewater into rivers for years.
Others objected on the grounds that it was a federal intrusion. Some worried Superfund status, which delivers federal money up-front for extensive cleanups, would diminish the chances of mining making a comeback.
But as of Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had received only seven written comments opposing the planned cleanup, and 18 supporting it.
“I’ve gotten more letters to the editor on this topic,” said Mark Esper, editor of the Silverton Standard, a weekly newspaper in the heart of the storied mining district in the San Juan Mountains. “I’m a little bit surprised,” he said.
Since opening the public comment period in April, the EPA said, the agency has received a total of just 33 written comments , with 25 clearly for or against. Others made suggestions about specific sites or commented on other projects.
Monday is the deadline for the public to weigh in.
Opposition to a Superfund designation softened after a 3-million-gallon spill from the Gold King Mine on Aug. 5, 2015, even though it was an EPA-led crew that inadvertently triggered the blowout during a preliminary cleanup operation.
Many people came to believe only the federal government could pull off the sweeping cleanup that will be required, Esper said. The project is expected to cost millions and take years.
Silverton Town Administrator Bill Gardner said the scant comments might signal that residents had their say during months of public meetings.
“I’m hoping that people feel included and that their concerns have been heard,” he said.
Tainted wastewater from the Gold King reached the Animas River in Colorado and the San Juan River in New Mexico and Utah. The EPA estimates the spill sent 880,000 pounds of metals into the Animas, including arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel and zinc.
Water utilities shut down their intake valves and farmers stopped drawing from the rivers. The EPA says the water quality quickly returned to pre-spill levels.
After local officials and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper endorsed a Superfund cleanup, the EPA proposed the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund area in April. It encompasses 48 sites that spill a combined 5.4 million gallons of acidic waste daily, the agency said.
The EPA could formally create the Superfund district as early as this fall, after the agency reviews the comments and makes any changes to the plan.
If the area is designated a Superfund site, the EPA would examine the mountains for pollution sources and compile a list of cleanup alternatives. Long-term cleanup work would begin once the EPA chooses an alternative.