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EPA proposes work at 26 mine sites over next 5 years

Work will clean up waste while long-term plan is completed
The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed work at 26 mining sites over the next five years.

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed cleanup work at 26 mining sites in the Superfund area around Silverton over the next five years while the agency comes up with a long-term plan for improving water quality in the Animas River.

On Thursday, the EPA released its proposed plan for “Interim Remedial Actions,” a long-awaited document that outlines cleanup projects the agency will take around the mines of Silverton in the short term.

These projects will run concurrent with the drafting of a more comprehensive, long-term plan – known as a “Site-wide Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study” – for the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site, which is comprised of a total of 48 mining sites.

The EPA believes these early action projects, which can be more streamlined than the traditional Superfund process, will help improve water quality in the Animas River.

“We’ve got years’ worth of investigations to do,” Rebecca Thomas, the EPA’s project manager, said in a previous interview. “These early actions are not intended to be a final remedy. They’re no-brainer activities to help get the water clean and reduce the amount of loading.”

Most notably, the EPA has found and intends to clean up five areas used for recreation around Silverton where mine waste or contaminated soils exceed human health-risk levels for arsenic and lead.

The EPA based this risk on a camping scenario, using arsenic and lead health thresholds for children because they are the most susceptible to pollutants, the agency said.

These areas include two campgrounds north of Silverton on County Road 2, near Howardsville and Animas Forks, as well as two recreational areas near Junction Mine, Koehler Tunnel and Longfellow Mine.

The EPA hopes to tackle 20 sites where mine wastewater is being discharged from a mine portal or opening that is partially obstructed by waste or debris and coming into contact with a contaminated mine waste pile.

By routing wastewater discharge from waste piles, the EPA believes it will reduce the amount of potentially toxic metals getting into the headwaters of the Animas River.

Eleven sites have been identified where the EPA hopes to divert clean water upstream before it gets to a contaminated mining site through the construction of diversion structures or berms.

At eight mining-related sites, the EPA has proposed to muck out a total of 14 settling ponds that have been neglected and no longer serve their purpose of taking potentially toxic metals out of the waterway.

The EPA has identified two sites where mine waste is in the middle of a stream. The EPA estimates this would take about 990 cubic yards of mine waste out of areas near the Grand Mogul and Boston mines.

The EPA says the construction time frame for this project is one season for an individual site and up to five years for all sources of mining pollution. The cost for the entirety of these projects is an estimated $9,976,000.

Over five years, that’s about $2 million annually.

The EPA told The Durango Herald on Thursday it hopes to start field work by the end of this year.

The EPA said in its report that these 26 mining sites were picked because elevated concentrations of mining-related contaminates were found in one or more categories, such as surface water, sediment soil and waste rock.

The public may comment on the proposed plan until July 16 by emailing peterson.cynthia@epa.gov.

The EPA will host a public meeting June 21 in Silverton. Officials said if the 416 Fire affects attendance, the agency will explore other ways to share information from the meeting with the public.

jromeo@durangoherald.com

Proposed early action plan (PDF)

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