#AnimasRiver: @EPA is recommending a scaled-back approach for Bonita Peak superfund due to funding uncertainty

On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

EPA crews in southwestern Colorado swiftly stopped an acidic, 15 gallons-a-minute flow from the defunct Brooklyn Mine, drainage that for decades has injected heavy arsenic, cadmium, lead, manganese and zinc into Animas River headwaters. That’s a tiny portion of the overall 3,750 gallons-a-minute contaminating the Animas, but is typical of the trickling from thousands of mines that slowly kills Western streams — even as clean water increasingly is coveted.

“It took half a day. All we did was redirect the adit flow so that it didn’t cross waste rock,” EPA Superfund project manager Rebecca Thomas said…

…EPA cleanup specialists face the practical reality that the nation’s ailing Superfund program for rectifying environmental disasters may not be able to deliver. Federal cleanups of toxic mining Superfund sites typically take decades due to bureaucracy and scarce funds.

EPA officials have proposed 40 “early-response” fixes spanning 20 of the mine sites in the mountains above Silverton. If locals approve — public meetings are scheduled next week — EPA crews would embark on these small-scale projects to create ponds that slow drainage so that contaminants drop out, to reroute snow and rain run-off away from waste rock, and to remove tailings that slump into streams and ooze poison.

The investigation and planning for a full Superfund cleanup still would continue, once EPA chiefs and Congress allocate funds. But the overall cleanup here at 46 sites across the newly designated, 60-square-mile Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site is complicated and costly. It requires mapping a vast underground maze of drilled tunnels and natural fissures, inserting concrete plugs and installing water-cleaning systems. EPA crews also would have to dispose of thousands of cubic yards of metals-laced sludge each year, spreading it in waste pits or possibly injecting it into super-deep bore holes to serve as a buffer and hold acidic mining wastewater inside dormant mine tunnels…

Less money for EPA could reduce Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment testing of water quality in streams and slow completion of a toxic mines inventory to guide cleanups at thousands of the worst leaking mines, Green said. Next year, Conservation Colorado will push state-level legislation to require mining companies to post sufficient bond money to guarantee proper postmining restoration.

In Washington, D.C., Earthworks advocates lamented that legislation Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner mulled to promote cleanups has fizzled…

Beyond the quick fixes, EPA and southwestern Colorado officials also are working to create a scientific research center in Silverton that they envision as a hub for hydrology research to improve water quality at mining sites…

Next week, EPA officials plan to hold public meetings with residents in Silverton, Durango and Farmington, N.M., for discussion of both the quick fixes and long-term cleanup.

“Funding is a question,” said Thomas, the EPA project manager. “We certainly will be requesting money this year. We will start the work as soon as the funding is available — no earlier than probably the fourth quarter this year.”

Yet tangible progress can be made sooner, she said.

“I’m very optimistic. This is a high-visibility project. The work that we do in this district could be used as a template for hundreds, if not thousands, of abandoned mines across the Rocky Mountain West. There’s a lot of energy here at the EPA, and also at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, to make sure we do the right thing and see some improvement in environmental quality. I’m more optimistic than trepidacious for sure,” Thomas said.

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