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La Plata County to take stance on Superfund

Nonbinding resolution supports Silverton, San Juan County decision

La Plata County commissioners may take a formal stance as early as Dec. 22 on Silverton’s and San Juan County’s decision to explore Superfund status for the mining district in the Upper Animas watershed.

The resolution would merely serve as a statement of support to the county to the north, which agreed last month to begin negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA took responsibility for the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine spill, which dumped 3 million gallons of acidic wastewater into the Animas River – but also helped spur the recent agreement over Superfund designation. Silverton and San Juan County passed a motion on Nov. 25, ending 20 years of debate over whether to pursue federal dollars to clean up a long-polluted watershed.

A working draft of La Plata County’s resolution acknowledges the spill impacted not just San Juan and La Plata counties, but also Utah, New Mexico and three tribes – the Navajo, Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute. The commission’s favorable vote would say La Plata County supports Superfund designation for the Upper Cement Creek Basin “to ensure and protect the health, safety and welfare” of the county and others affected by damage from hard-rock mining.

Commissioners agreed to stand with San Juan County and Silverton as they seek inclusion on the National Priorities List, but Commissioner Julie Westendorff was dissatisfied with the most recent draft, and she wanted to make clear La Plata County’s role in the situation.

“I thought our involvement was on the front end,” Westendorff said. “They decided Superfund seems like a viable option, so that makes us more a concerned observer than a major player.” She added she would like to see a draft that speaks more specifically to La Plata County.

A negotiating committee, including a Silverton trustee, San Juan County commissioner and the San Juan County and Silverton municipal judge, will begin talks next week with the EPA.

La Plata County will subsequently receive an update and continue working on its resolution, which could go before the board for a vote on Dec. 22.

San Juan County Commissioner Peter McKay said he believes La Plata County’s resolution is a positive step that demonstrates a strong relationship between the two communities.

“La Plata County has been very supportive through this whole process, and to have their backing was a good feeling,” McKay said. “I think they are understanding that from the beginning, we’ve wanted what’s best for the entire region. We had to work through funding sources to find the best way to move forward. Over time, it became very clear that a Superfund designation is the place the funding could be secured.”

jpace@durangoherald.com

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