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EPA outlines 2023 Bonita Peak cleanup priorities

Agency has several large projects in the Silverton Superfund site on next year’s schedule
Discussions on an active treatment plant for wastewater from draining mines near Silverton will occur next month and construction on a solid mine waste repository will begin in May, EPA officials say. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency have made the rounds this week presenting their 2022 accomplishments and priority projects for the next year in the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site. Officials from the agency met with both La Plata County commissioners and the Superfund site’s Community Advisory Group.

The site contains 48 abandoned mines within three drainages that feed into the Animas River. Studies and remediation work have been ongoing ever since San Juan County and the town of Silverton requested a Superfund designation after the 2015 Gold King Mine spill.

In addition to yearly bulkhead inspections and seepage studies to determine how water might infiltrate into and weaken existing tunnel systems, the EPA and partner agencies completed a number of remediation and reclamation projects. Those included moving the tailings at the North Star Mine site to prevent water from seeping through into Mineral Creek (a tributary of the Animas River), lining various containment ponds and altering ground topography to prevent pooling.

Mining-related sites along Mineral Creek, Cement Creek and the Upper Animas River are to included in the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site. (Durango Herald file)

Notably, partners completed remediation work at Campground 4, an unofficial dispersed camping site located northeast of Silverton. The site contained lead levels that reached upward of 80,000 parts per million. The EPA defines a yard with bare soil containing 1,200 ppm as hazard to a child.

A report released by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in December found that lead levels in a number of dispersed campground sites reached dangerous levels for children and pregnant women. However, the risk at Campground 4 been mitigated by covering the area with cleaner soil and removing the most toxic material, but camping remains prohibited in the area.

The EPA created a storymap this year that allows the public to view updates on the work in the district.

Perhaps the biggest project slated for 2023 is the construction scheduled to begin in May on a repository for solid mine waste from the entire district. The project has been the topic of discussion for several years. Repositories can prevent human and environmental exposure to the heavy metals contained in mine tailings. The repository would have a 100-year life span, compared to the significantly shorter lifetime of the pond currently containing the sludge settled out of Gold King mine drainage at the Gladstone water treatment plant.

EPA’s Community Involvement Coordinator for the site Meg Broughton told the CAG members that discussions with Silverton residents will occur in the coming months regarding details of construction, including which of the few routes through town construction crews will use.

The EPA will also hold a meeting and listening session in Silverton on Feb. 23 to discuss the possibility of actively treating water from draining mines that contribute the highest volume of contaminated water.

Details of upcoming meetings can be found on the EPA’s webpage for the district.


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