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Local officials to tour Superfund sites around Colorado

Visits aim to better understand federal cleanup designation
San Juan County Commissioner Pete McKay stands at the mouth of the Gold King Mine on Aug. 10, five days after an estimated 3 million gallons of wastewater was accidentally discharged from the mine. McKay, along with other government officials, will tour Superfund sites across the state this week.

A large constituency of local officials will tour several Superfund sites around Colorado this week to better understand the federal hazardous cleanup designation process.

Officials from La Plata County, the San Juan Basin Health Department, San Juan County, Silverton, Southern Ute Indian Tribe, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency will begin their outing Wednesday at the Nelson Tunnel Superfund site in Creede.

From there, the group will visit the California Gulch Superfund site in Leadville and the Eagle Mine site in Gilman-Minturn on Thursday, and end its tour Friday, visiting the Clear Creek-Central City Superfund site in Idaho Springs.

“We’ve heard conceptually how it works. Now, lets see how it works on the ground,” said La Plata County Manager Joe Kerby.

All along the way, local officials will be able to meet with leaders in respective towns to discuss their area’s experience with the EPA’s hazardous cleanup designation and how it’s affected their towns.

“I don’t know if it worked well in other communities or hasn’t worked well, but I’m interested in going to find out for myself,” Kerby said. “I’m interested not only to visit the sites, but to hear from local officials who have been on that journey much longer than the rest of us.”

San Juan County Commissioner Pete McKay, a member of the tour, said the visit is a strong showing of unity between the invested stakeholders concerned with improving water quality in the Upper Animas River Basin.

“It’s a real good example how this has brought our towns and counties together for mutual cooperation,” McKay said. “We need to focus on absolute need to move forward with mitigation. I think this is an example where there’s an absolute need for municipalities to work closely together.”

Conversations concerning whether to place a Superfund designation on the mining district north of Silverton have continued for some time, the debate found new life after the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine blowout, which sent orange mine wastewater down the Animas River, through three states.

Local, state and federal officials have maintained options will be weighed throughout the winter, shooting for a possible long-term solution plan to be drafted by summer 2016.

“The reason I’m going is to broaden my knowledge, hopefully, to help formulate policies down the road, if, and when, that time is appropriate,” Kerby said. “And most other agencies are approaching (with) the same angle.”


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