@EPA: Bonita Peak Mining District among Superfund sites targeted for intense and immediate attention. (Hope for funding.)

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

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Andrew Mutter/Lisa McClain-Vanderpool):

EPA announces elevation of 21 sites nationwide

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the list of Superfund sites that Administrator Pruitt has targeted for immediate and intense attention. The 21 sites on the list – from across the United States – are in direct response to the Superfund Task Force Recommendations, issued this summer, calling for this list.

“By elevating these sites we are sending a message that EPA is, in fact, restoring its Superfund program to its rightful place at the center of the Agency’s mission,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “Getting toxic land sites cleaned up and revitalized is of the utmost importance to the communities across the country that are affected by these sites. I have charged the Superfund Task Force staff to immediately and intently develop plans for each of these sites to ensure they are thoughtfully addressed with urgency. By getting these sites cleaned up, EPA will continue to focus on ways we can directly improve public health and the environment for people across America.”

In Colorado, the Bonita Peak Mining District (BPMD) site is on the Administrator’s Superfund list for emphasis. EPA is currently working with the State of Colorado as well as its federal partners, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, to develop a Five-Year Plan that outlines cleanup activities and remediation objectives for the site. EPA is working closely with the local government and community stakeholders to ensure the interests of the community are met.

“We are heavily invested in achieving tangible water quality improvements in the Upper Animas watershed,” said EPA Regional Administrator Doug Benevento. “EPA has a unique responsibility at this site and by placing it on this list we are recognizing that responsibility and ensuring the community that it is going to be a priority.”

While long-term planning continues, EPA is using an adaptive management approach at the site that supports early actions to improve water quality, stabilize mine features and address priority areas that pose a risk to human health. Through his hands-on engagement at the BPMD site, Administrator Pruitt will advance progress on site cleanup without expending additional taxpayer dollars.

“Today’s announcement to include the Bonita Peak Mining District site to the EPA’s Superfund “Emphasis List” is an important step forward,” said Governor John Hickenlooper. “We visited the site with EPA Administrator Pruitt in August and are encouraged by his follow through with resources and support to the agency’s cleanup efforts. This is in addition to other national priority list sites like the Colorado Smelter site in Pueblo, where important EPA cleanup actions also are underway. We look forward to working closely with the EPA, our communities and our Congressional delegation to remediate these sites.”

“Secretary Pruitt assured me when I met with him before his confirmation and when we visited the site in August that the EPA would make the right decision for the people of Southwest Colorado, and I appreciate his agency following through on their promise,” said Senator Cory Gardner. “The Gold King mine spill has had a significant impact on our state and there will continue to be a lot of work done by our elected officials and community. This latest commitment to the Bonita Peak Mining District along with continued attention to Colorado Smelter cleanup actions in Pueblo are important steps in the progress that needs to be made by the EPA at both locations.”

“We applaud the EPA’s decision to prioritize the Bonita Peak Mining District site, and we encourage them to keep working with state officials to secure funding for a local community liaison based in Silverton to improve coordination for the BPMD site among local, state, and federal governments,” said Senator Michael Bennet. “The administration and Congress should also work together to ensure all Superfund sites, including important clean-up efforts underway in Pueblo, have the resources and support they need.”

The Bonita Peak Mining District (BPMD) became a Superfund site on Sept. 9, 2016, when it was added to the National Priorities List. The site consists of historic and ongoing releases from mining operations in three drainages: Mineral Creek, Cement Creek and Upper Animas, which converge into the Animas River near Silverton, Colorado. The site includes 35 mines, seven tunnels, four tailings impoundments and two study areas where additional information is needed to evaluate environmental concerns.

In developing this initial list, EPA considered sites that can benefit from Administrator Pruitt’s direct engagement and have identifiable actions to protect human health and the environment. These are sites requiring timely resolution of specific issues to expedite cleanup and redevelopment efforts. The list is designed to spur action at sites where opportunities exist to act quickly and comprehensively. The Administrator will receive regular updates on each of these sites.

The list is intended to be dynamic. Sites will move on and off the list as appropriate. At times, there may be more or fewer sites based on where the Administrator’s attention and focus is most needed. There is no commitment of additional funding associated with a site’s inclusion on the list.

EPA remains dedicated to addressing risks at all Superfund sites, not just those on the list. The Task Force Recommendations are aimed at expediting cleanup at all Superfund sites and Administrator Pruitt has set the expectation that there will be a renewed focus on accelerating work and progress at all Superfund sites across the country.

The Task Force, whose work is ongoing, has five overarching goals:

  • Expediting cleanup and remediation;
  • Reinvigorating cleanup and reuse efforts by potentially responsible parties;
  • Encouraging private investment to facilitate cleanup and reuse;
  • Promoting redevelopment and community revitalization; and
  • Engaging with partners and stakeholders.
  • The Task Force will provide the public with regular updates as it makes progress on the Administrator’s Emphasis list and other Task Force activities.
    The list of sites can be found here: https://www.epa.gov/superfund/superfund-sites-targeted-immediate-intense-action.

    From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

    Many local and national officials saw the listing as the agency fulfilling commitments it made after the EPA in June 2015 released acid mine drainage into the Animas River watershed.

    “That is exactly what was promised to us when we signed up for the National Priority List,” San Juan County Commissioner Pete McKay said of the recent announcement.

    Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, and Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, and Gov. John Hickenlooper also supported the announcement.

    While the list is expected to be dynamic, Benevento said the announcement signified a long-term commitment to the area.

    Inclusion on the list is not a commitment of additional funding, according to a news release. But it does place an obligation on the regional administrator to make sure the project manager has the resources that she needs, Benevento said.

    The EPA is working with Colorado, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to develop a five-year plan for the Bonita Peak area that outlines cleanup activities and remediation objectives, the release said.

    The site includes 35 mines, seven tunnels, four tailings impoundments and two study areas where additional information is needed to evaluate environmental concerns.

    Project Manager Rebecca Thomas expects human health and aquatic risk assessments to be finished in the spring and some cleanup work to start in the summer.

    San Juan County commissioners McCay and Scott Fetchenhier also said some sites could be cleaned up in the short-term.

    “There are a couple sites with tailings that could be cleaned up pretty quickly,” Fetchenhier said.

    McCay said understanding the flows of polluted water in the Gladstone area and how best to mitigate those is an immediate priority.

    From The Washington Post (Brady Dennis):

    The push is part of Administrator Scott Pruitt’s promise to prioritize the decades-old cleanup program, even as the Trump administration shrinks the size and reach of the EPA. The 21 sites highlighted by the agency span the country, from a former tannery site in New Hampshire to a contaminated landfill from the World War II-era Manhattan Project in St. Louis to an abandoned copper mine in Nevada…

    David Konisky, a political scientist at Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, questioned how EPA put together the list of sites it released Friday.

    “I do find the rationale for inclusion on the list to be strange,” Konisky, who has written extensively about the Superfund program, said in an email. “The EPA selected sites based on the ability of the Administrator to help achieve an upcoming milestone or site-specific action. This strikes me as mostly about creating a credit-claiming opportunity for Pruitt, rather than prioritizing additional resources to sites where communities face the most significant health risks.”

    There are more than 1,300 Superfund sites nationwide, some of which have lingered for years on the EPA’s “national priorities list.” While Pruitt has repeatedly spoken about his focus on the program, calling it “vital” and a “cornerstone” of the EPA’s mission, critics have noted that the Trump administration has proposed slashing the Superfund budget by 30 percent. They also worry that a single-minded focus on speeding up the process at particular sites could result in inadequate cleanups…

    “It’s happy talk,” Nancy Loeb, director of the Environmental Advocacy Center at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, told The Washington Post in the summer, noting how funding for the program has shrunk over time. “We have Superfund sites, but we don’t have a super fund.”

    Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

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