Here’s a look at the history of the Summitville Superfund Site from Kenneth Jessen I that’s running in The Loveland Reporter-Herald. Here’s an excerpt:
Gold was panned throughout 1870 until winter arrived. The following spring a new rush of prospectors came into the area, but poor yields discouraged most, and by the end of the summer, they left the area.
[J.L. Wightman] plus two others remained and took their gold dust to Denver, receiving $170.
They did not give up and when the source of the gold was discovered, it led to the establishment of Summitville and underground mining.
A post office opened in 1876, and the town grew to become the largest gold producing camp in Colorado. The town’s population fluctuated from 300 to 600, enough to support 14 saloons and the publication of the Summitville Nugget…
Summitville was reborn when large-scale mining to remove low-grade ore resumed in 1934. The post office reopened, and 70 new homes were constructed of milled lumber along with a bathhouse, bunkhouses and large dining hall. Summitville also got its own school and its population swelled to an estimated 1,500.
The mine continued to operate, but due to the harsh weather and deterioration of its buildings, Summitville was again abandoned. Miners and mill workers were brought in by bus from Del Norte…
Mining ended in 1992 after a cease and desist order by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Part of the problem was overflow from the heap leach ponds combined with leaks in the liner allowing potassium cyanide to flow into the nearby stream.
A much bigger problem, however, was the toxic contents of the water coming from the open pit mine and old abandoned tunnels. The water in this area is naturally acidic and for that reason, it dissolves the metals found in the ground and in waste rock. The combination rendered the Wightman Fork of the Alamosa River void of aquatic life for many miles.
The mine owner, Canadian Galactic Resources, soon filed for bankruptcy.
The Environmental Protection Agency was left holding the bag for the cleanup to the tune of around $255 million including $18 million for a water treatment plant.
Galactic Resources paid around $30 million in a settlement. Colorado has now taken over the operation of the plant costing taxpayers about $2 million per year potentially forever.
A visitor to Summitville will see about two dozen abandoned buildings sitting in a meadow and with a beautiful backdrop of high mountains. The ramshackle cabins are split into two groups: one by the road and the other on the hillside.