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Silverton is calling for federal funding

Water treatment, mine mitigation the top priorities
Sludge from the Gold King Mine wastewater spill in Silverton coats the banks of the Animas River just north of Durango on Aug. 7, two days after an estimated 3 million gallons of contaminated water spilled from the mine north of Silverton.

Local officials in Silverton are urging Congress to provide funding to address the long-term acid mine drainage from the many mines above the town. But they aren’t necessarily looking for Superfund dollars.

In a joint resolution, officials laid out projects that would be necessary to prevent another disaster such as the Gold King Mine blowout that released an estimated 3 million gallons of metal-laden water Aug. 5 and closed both the Animas and San Juan rivers.

“The most important thing is this never happens again,” said Bill Gardner, the town administrator.

Gardner apologized during a Durango City Council meeting Tuesday and explained the document that the Silverton Town Board signed Monday and the San Juan Board of County Commissioners passed Tuesday.

Gardner said he was profoundly sorry for the waste and the affect on businesses in town, especially because he was a Durango resident for 16 years.

“A piece of my heart is broken,” he said.

Silverton officials are also seeking funds to mitigate the current environmental and economic impacts on downstream communities, including all of the impacted Native American reservations, Gardner said.

“We recognize that this is a regional problem and that it starts in our neighborhood,” William Tookey, a San Juan County administrator, said in a prepared statement.

They want a broad approach that would address draining mines across the whole Upper San Juan Basin.

A permanent water-treatment facility for the acid mine drainage in upper Cement Creek and field work to identify and address other mine portals that could blow out were also requested.

The joint resolution did not list a dollar amount or a federal agency, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, that elected leaders think should provide the money.

This was an intentional decision, Gardner said. Officials are open-minded on how the disaster funds could be appropriated, and town officials are neutral on the question of a Superfund designation.

But Superfund has been underfunded for a long time, and local officials are looking for a more immediate remedy, he said.

“The EPA and Superfunding is not a silver bullet,” he said.

A solution will not come cheap.

“We need millions of dollars for this, because science isn’t cheap, and construction isn’t cheap,” he told the councilors.

The town is working with Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, and others on a funding designation, and local officials are trying to work fast while the problem still has national attention, Gardner said.

“I, absolutely, am scared,” he said. “If we lose the spotlight ... our hopes could be dashed.”

Currently, work on the Gold King Mine is ongoing, and a crew of about 30 people from the EPA and contractors are closing down the mine for the winter and making sure all the water can be diverted to a water-treatment area at the nearby Red and Bonita Mine, Gardner said.

mshinn@durangoherald.com

Silverton resolution (PDF)

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