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Public suggests EPA has quantifiable goals for reducing mine pollution

Agency wants to mitigate 26 mines over five years
The Environmental Protection Agency has a quick-action plan to clean up 26 mining sites over the next five years in the Superfund site near Silverton.

SILVERTON – Several people at a public hearing this week asked why the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed quick-action plan for 26 mines fails to address the top mine polluters in the Superfund site.

The EPA last week released plans for cleanup work at 26 mining sites over the next five years in the Superfund around Silverton – known as the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site.

These smaller projects are intended to run concurrent with the drafting of a more comprehensive, long-term plan to address the degrading water quality in the headwaters of the Animas River because of mine pollution.

While no formal plan has been approved, the proposed projects could cost up to $10 million over the span of five years.

At the public hearing Thursday, some people questioned why funds being used for the proposed cleanup work couldn’t be used instead to address the major mine polluters up the Cement Creek drainage.

While the EPA’s Superfund is comprised of 48 mining sites, by far the largest loaders of toxic metals are mine sites up Cement Creek, namely the Gold King, Red & Bonita, Mogul mines and the American Tunnel.

“You could get a lot bigger bang for the buck in treating (these mines) and get substantially more metal reductions than you will with these kinds of projects,” said Peter Butler with the Animas River Stakeholders Group. “Maybe even 10 times.”

Butler suggested the EPA come up with at least some rough estimates for the amount of metal reductions that would result with the completion of these quick-action projects.

“It just seems to me to make sense,” he said. “You ought to at least have some sense of what kind of benefits you’re going to get. Especially if you could spend that money and get a lot better reductions doing something else.”

Bill Simon, one of the founders of the stakeholders group, said much of the same.

“The cost should be weighted against the benefits that it provides in real figures,” he said. “I don’t see that has even been brought up in the plan. It’s just nebulous. We need more information on that.”

Christina Progress, interim project manager for the Superfund site, said the mining pollution occurring up Cement Creek is much more complex, and it will take years to investigate and come up with a long-term solution.

This plan, on the other hand, deals with “immediate steps that are relatively straightforward and simple” that span across the entire headwaters of the Animas River, Progress said.

The EPA proposes to stop mine wastewater from coming into contact with mine waste piles, divert clean water that may be coming into contact with mine waste and take mine waste out of streams, among other actions.

These sites were picked by the EPA for the potential benefits to human health and the environment, Progress said. Five projects, for instance, involve sites where people camp or recreate.

Still, the recurring theme Thursday night was for the EPA to redirect efforts up Cement Creek.

“Don’t grasp for sites that don’t have much there,” said Clare Renoux, who owns property around Silverton. “Put your money where it counts.”

People may submit public comments until July 16 by emailing Peterson.cynthia@epa.gov.

The EPA will respond to comments received, and then release a proposed final plan that the agency hopes to adopt by the end of summer.

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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