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La Plata County OKs draft agreement with EPA on mine spill remediation

Vote on supporting Superfund postponed to January
This photo, taken Aug. 8, three days into the Gold King Mine spill, shows the temporary tint the wastewater left on the Animas River as it ran through Durango. On Tuesday, La Plata County commissioners gave unanimous support to a 10-year agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency that would provide $2.4 million from the federal agency for remedial efforts related to the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine spill. The EPA has not approved the agreement.

A 10-year cooperative agreement in which the Environmental Protection Agency would provide $2.4 million for remedial efforts related to the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine spill received unanimous support from La Plata County Board commissioners on Tuesday.

The federal agency has assumed responsibility for a breach at the abandoned mine portal that sent 3 million gallons of mining wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers.

EPA officials have until Feb. 1 to approve, amend or reject the agreement, which includes eight tasks to ensure the future health and safety of the county’s residents and environment. Those include continued work with Wright Water Engineers, which has conducted for the county an analyses on the Animas River’s health, independent of the EPA.

Other initiatives include a real-time water-monitoring system to alert the county of changes in water quality, developing a response plan for future environmental incidents and hiring a contractor for community outreach – to explain pre- and post-spill data to the public.

The county has accomplished one of the tasks, which is to investigate the feasibility of a Superfund designation for the Silverton area.

County Manager Joe Kerby would serve as recovery manager and oversee, with other county staff, the implementation of the agreement.

A complete draft of the cooperative agreement can be found on the La Plata County website.

The $2.4 million, to be spent over 10 years if the plan is carried out, is an estimate, and it would be allocated as needed.

The EPA has reimbursed about $200,000 to the county for expenditures between Aug. 12 and Sept. 11.

Commissioners unanimously agreed Tuesday to postpone until January a vote on an official statement of support of a Superfund designation for the Upper Cement Creek Basin.

“I’d like to continue this pending action from Silverton and San Juan County,” Commissioner Julie Westendorff said.

Westendorff has expressed in previous meetings that she wants La Plata County to play the role of supportive bystander as the county to the north decides whether to seek federal cleanup dollars and a spot on the National Priorities List.

Silverton and San Juan County officials will meet again with the EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in early January.

jpace@durangoherald.com

This story has been updated to clarify the status of the draft agreement.

Apr 21, 2016
EPA checks for Gold King spill dribble in to county
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