The EPA came to town on Thursday, Dec. 18, and it was a much-more cordial gathering than back in the 1980s when Leadville was first named a Superfund site. The occasion was to recognize the removal of Upper California Gulch, the Asarco Smelter/Colorado Zinc-Lead Mill site and the Apache Tailings from the Superfund National Priorities List. All are part of the California Gulch Superfund site.
The delisting of these areas, Operable Units 4, 5 and 7, from the Superfund list is said to be a major milestone in addressing mining contamination at the site.
Lake County Commissioner Mike Bordogna provided a timeline of the activity in California Gulch stretching from the time when gold was discovered in California Gulch in 1859 through 1983 when California Gulch was placed on the EPA’s National Priorities List to the current day and the most recent delistings.
EPA Regional Administrator Shaun McGrath said that of the 18 square miles that initially made up the Superfund site, seven of the 12 operable units have now been delisted, accounting for 70 percent of the area. He added that 90 percent of the construction work is now complete.
McGrath also used the occasion to present the Lake County Commissioners with an Environmental Achievement Award for Excellence in Site Reuse. Cited were three reuse projects within Lake County: the Mineral Belt Trail, the Lake County Community Park and soccer fields, and the restoration of the Upper Arkansas River, which recently received the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Gold Medal Designation for trout fishing.
Martha Rudolph, director of Environmental Programs, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, looked back to the “thorny days” of the Superfund site, saying “California Gulch was a challenge from the beginning,” so much so that no cleanup took place at the site for the first ten years.
Despite the adversity, she noted, “Everyone always had the same goal.”
Thirty years later relationships among the entities have improved. And today the Arkansas River has gone from an eyesore to a true gem, Rudolph said.
Along with the Lake County award, numerous people were recognized for their work over the years with the EPA.
History of California Gulch
Commissioner Mike Bordogna traced the history of California Gulch through the years at the delisting celebration held Dec. 18.
1859 – Gold discovered at mouth of California Gulch
1893 – Silver market crash
1983 – National Priorities List listing
1991 – Leadville Mine Drainage Treatment Plant began operations
1992 – Yak Treatment Plant began operations
1994 – Site divided into 12 operable units
1995 – Construction of the Mineral Belt Train began
2000 – Mineral Belt Trail completed
2001 – OU10 (Oregon Gulch) deleted from NPL
2002 – OU2 (Malta Gulch) deleted from the NPL
2005 – Remedy construction at OU11 (Arkansas River floodplain) began
2008 – Upper Arkansas River ranked most popular Colorado fishery
$20.5 million natural-resource damages settlement reached
2010 – OU11 (Arkansas River Floodplain) remedial work completed
OU8 (Lower California Gulch) deleted from the NPL:
2011 – OU9 (residential areas) deleted from the NPL
2014 – Gold Medal Trout Waters designation awarded
Lake County received Brownfields grant
OU4 (Upper California Gulch) deleted from the NPL
OU5 (ASARCO Smelter/Colorado Zinc-Lead Mill Site) deleted from the NPL
OU6 (Apache Tailings) deleted from the NPL