@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

    Farmington: #GoldKingMine advisory group meeting Monday, November 27, 2017 #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

    From The New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

    The New Mexico Gold King Mine Spill Citizens’ Advisory Committee will meet Monday evening in Farmington.

    According to the New Mexico Environment Department, the committee includes 11 citizen volunteers from northern New Mexico, including the Navajo Nation, and works with New Mexico’s Long-Term Impact Review Team to monitor and understand the long-term impacts of the 2015 Gold King Mine accident…

    Monday’s meeting will include a presentation on the area’s hydrogeology and geochemistry and provide an opportunity for public comment.

    In May, the team released a long-term monitoring plan for the Animas River.

    In addition to monitoring the impacts of the Gold King Mine spill, the work scientists are doing will help people understand how waste runoff from other mines affects surface and groundwater resources in the area. The work will also help identify how any future releases from abandoned mines might affect the Animas watershed.

    To read the plan click here. You can also find an associated, peer-reviewed study from the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources here.

    Monday’s meeting will begin at 5:30 and be held in the SUNS Room at San Juan Community College in Farmington. For more information: http://www.NMEDriverwatersafety.org or http://NMENV-Outreach@state.nm.us

    The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

    #AnimasRiver: Lead pollution at Bonita Peak Mining District superfund site

    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):

    This lead and dozens of other contaminants are spreading beyond waste-rock piles into surrounding “halos” where they are absorbed by plants and then can be ingested by bugs and transferred from the insects to birds to, ultimately, mammals. EPA officials said tissue samples from deer will be tested to assess ecological harm.

    “You start to understand the scope of the environmental problem and how long this is going to take,” EPA Superfund project chief Rebecca Thomas said after a town hall meeting this week in Silverton. “It is pretty overwhelming.

    “We don’t really have an active mining industry in this state anymore. Yet we still see so many impacts. And we’re just looking at the Bonita Peak Mining District in the San Juan Mountains. Think how much more widespread it is across the Rocky Mountain West. It’s a big problem. It’s going to take many years to solve it — and a lot of money.”

    The lead, measured at concentrations up to 5,000 parts per million, surfaced in the latest round of sampling and study that were spurred by a federal declaration last year of a Superfund environmental disaster linked to the 2015 Gold King Mine spill that turned the Animas River mustard-yellow through three states.

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has said Superfund cleanups will be the EPA’s priority, even as he and other Republicans push to trim the agency’s $8 billion budget, because Americans deserve to have environmental harm fixed as required by law.

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    A recent Denver Post article is being called misleading and inaccurate for overstating the risks to wildlife from mine contamination around a Superfund site near Silverton.

    “The statement that EPA crews found that lead is threatening birds and animals is not accurate,” Environmental Protection Agency project manager Rebecca Thomas wrote in an email Friday. “The terrestrial risk assessment is ongoing and no conclusions have been reached.”

    Around 7 p.m. Thursday, The Denver Post sent a “Breaking News Alert” for a story titled “EPA crews working on Gold King cleanup find elevated lead threatening birds, animals and, potentially, people.”

    In the story, the Post draws the conclusion based on a presentation the EPA gave Monday, in which the agency said preliminary sampling of soils around the Superfund site found levels of lead at some locations at 5,000 parts per million.

    The Post said these levels are 100 times higher than “danger thresholds for wildlife.”

    However, EPA had said this data had not been validated.

    “The statement regarding ‘danger thresholds’ for wildlife in The Denver Post story is misleading,” Thomas said. “At this point, we are looking at very conservative screening values in assessing potential risk.”

    San Juan County Commissioner Scott Fetchenheir, a former miner and geologist who is quoted in the Post article, also took issue with the story.

    “I tried to explain that to (the reporter) and he just didn’t get it,” Fetchenheir said. “He had his mind made up there’s going to be lead problems.”

    Durango: Russian Olive mitigation

    Russian Olive

    From The Durango Herald (Mia Rupani):

    Mountain Studies Institute and Southwest Conservation Corps continue to wage war against the Russian olive, an invasive species that chokes out native trees and degrades the quality of the watershed.

    Last year, MSI was awarded a $195,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and an additional $52,000 from Colorado Parks and Wildlife for a three-year Russian olive-removal project.

    Removal efforts continued Saturday morning at Animas Valley Elementary and Christ the King Lutheran Church with two saw crews from SCC, and help from Durango Daybreak Rotary Club.

    MSI’s Amanda Kuenzi said the project specifically targets Russian olive trees on private land…

    Originally introduced for ornamental landscaping, the plants are native to East Asia and Russia, and consume nearly 75 gallons of water per day.

    They are considered a “List B noxious weed,” which requires local governments to manage their spread under Colorado state law…

    “Russian olive reduce wildlife habitat, interfere with nutrient cycling and outcompete native species,” Kuenzi said. “The wetlands have been deteriorating in the West because of irrigation practices and water storage. We have to protect these important ecosystems.”

    She said crews will be working on removal efforts through mid-November with about 60 private landowners throughout the Animas River Valley.

    On Saturday, the Rotary Club collected wood from the removal effort for its firewood-distribution project.

    Lake Nighthorse update: Annexation by the City of Durango, completion of recreation infrastructure in the works

    Lake NIghthorse September 19, 2016.

    From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

    …the city of Durango must annex the lake on County Road 210 and finish several construction projects before it’s ready for visitors, said Parks and Recreation Manager Cathy Metz. Durango City Council also needs to address a request to make the lake a no-wake area.

    While there is no exact opening date, the city is targeting April 1, but this will depend on the construction season during the winter, Metz said.

    City staff members have forecast an opening year for the lake in the past, but this time, the city is setting aside funding for operation in its 2018 budget. Lake operation, including staffing and materials, is expected to cost about $478,000, according to the city budget. City staff members will manage the lake and an entrance station where they will inspect boats for invasive species, such as zebra mussels.

    Operational costs not covered by user fees will be split with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Metz said. The cost split with the bureau will include the cost of providing police presence at the lake.

    The city is also planning to finish construction projects, including an overflow parking lot and a breakwater before the lake opens.

    The city has proposed spending $300,000 next year on a breakwater and a courtesy dock. A federal grant will pay for the overflow parking lot, which is in the design stage.

    Efforts to annex the property into the city are also underway. The lake and shoreline need to be within city limits so Durango Police Department can patrol the area…

    The Animas La Plata Operation Maintenance Replacement Association is also discussing how to direct visitors away from areas around the lake where there are archaeological sites and cultural resources…

    While a lot of work remains to be done to open the lake, some construction is finished, including an access road, boat ramp, parking lot and restrooms.

    The entrance station where boats will be inspected is also close to completion, she said.

    The city anticipates charging $5 for a day pass and $50 for an annual pass, she said.

    #NM Environment Dept. & #GoldKingMine Citizens’ Group Meets September 25, 2017

    The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

    From email from the New Mexico Environment Department:

    The New Mexico Gold King Mine Spill Citizens’ Advisory Committee, based out of San Juan County, New Mexico, meets Monday at 5:30 p.m. in the San Juan Community College Student Center – SUNS Room (accessible through the Henderson Fine Arts Building).

    Shannon Manfredi, Coordinator, Animas River Community Forum (ARCF) in Durango will discuss the role of the ARCF and related organizations, membership composition, and issues.

    The Citizens’ Advisory Committee is a group of 11 citizen volunteers from Northern New Mexica, including the Navajo Nation, who provide a forum for public concerns while tracking the scientific long-term monitoring of the Gold King Mine spill’s effects in the state. The CAC works with New Mexico’s Long-Term Impact Review Team established by Governor Susana Martinez to both monitor and discuss with the public the continuing effects of the 2015 mine blowout, caused by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, that released three million gallons of mining wastewater laden with 880,000 pounds of metals into the Animas and San Juan River system.

    For more information please visit the New Mexico Environment Department’s Gold King Mine website at https://www.env.nm.gov/river-water-safety/ or send an email to: NMENV-Outreach@state.nm.us

    #AnimasRiver: #GoldKingMine update

    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 Associated Press (Dan Elliott):

    The 12-inch (30-centimeter) valve will regulate wastewater pouring from the Gold King Mine in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, where the EPA inadvertently triggered a wastewater spill while excavating at the mine entrance in August 2015…

    The valve will be mounted in a steel-and concrete barrier about 70 feet (20 meters) inside the mine. The barrier will have water-tight access doors so workers and equipment can get deeper into the mine for cleanup and investigation.

    The EPA is also drilling a 170-foot (50-meter) horizontal well into another part of the Gold King to drain any water building up there. That water would be routed through a temporary treatment plant below the mine where wastewater draining from the main entrance is cleaned up.

    The EPA said it can control the flow of wastewater from the new drain to avoid another blowout.

    The documents did not say say how much the work will cost and the EPA did not immediately respond to emails and a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.

    The work is expected to be completed next month.

    Peter Butler, a leader of the volunteer Animas River Stakeholders Group, which works to improve water quality in the area, said he agreed with the EPA’s decision to install the barrier and drainage well.

    “It’s probably a good idea,” he said. “They are showing an abundance of caution.”

    Wastewater has flowed from the Gold King for years, and since the 2015 blowout, it has poured out at a rate of about 500 gallons (1,900 liters) a minute.

    Mine waste flows are unpredictable In the San Juan Mountains, where underground water flows through an interconnected warren of mine tunnels and natural faults.

    Precautions such as the barrier, valve and horizontal drain will make it safer for investigators to enter the mines and try to figure out the water flows, Butler said.

    The Gold King and dozens of other mining-related sites in the region were designated a Superfund district in 2016.