The race is on as Silverton officials look to write a letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper requesting Superfund status for discharging mines north of town by the end of January – the deadline to be considered in March for the hazardous waste cleanup program.
“Can we get enough assurances and support from the EPA so that our town can go forward with remediation?” Silverton town Administrator Bill Gardner said Thursday. “We only have three or four weeks, but it’s our goal to see if we can make that happen.”
The Environmental Protection Agency reviews contaminated sites for a National Priorities List two times a year: once in March, and again in September. If officials to the county north of Durango want the mining district that drains into Cement Creek to be considered this spring, they must direct Hickenlooper to request Superfund status from the EPA.
“We’re very clear up here, we’re not going to rush this. We really want to take our time on this and get every thing right. If the issues are clear by then, (the last week of January) could be a target date to shoot for,” ,” said San Juan County Commissioner Pete McKay.
This week, Silverton officials met with the EPA and officials from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to work out the nuts and bolts of what a Superfund designation would look like north of Silverton.
One of the community’s concerns is what the Superfund site name would be for the area 10 miles north of Silverton, in what is locally known as Gladstone. EPA officials assured residents it would not involve the town’s name, instead leaving it up to Silverton to come up with a name.
When The Durango Herald asked if Silverton Standard & the Miner Editor Mark Esper’s suggestion of the name “Durango Superfund Site” was in the mix, Gardner quipped:
“I must admit some of our elected officials are supportive of that,” he said, laughing. “But I promise you I won’t let that happen.”
McKay said uncertainty remains on the guarantee of funding should the site make the priority list, which rates hazardous sites around the county based on a variety of factors. Many have questioned whether the impaired water quality in the Animas River would rate very high, given human health is not at risk.
“They told us even if we don’t have the public health risk, we could still get into that system and get ranked to move toward remediation,” McKay said. “Quite a few other sites did not have a public health danger.”
On Wednesday night, the EPA held a public hearing in Silverton in an effort to keep open communications with the community, a vow the federal agency took in August shortly after its contractor released 3 million gallons of orange wastewater from the Gold King Mine.
Silverton resident David Breed, who proposed “The EPA Self-Inflicted Wound Superfund Site,” said Thursday that the public hearing was more positive than past meetings.
“They didn’t come off nearly as odious as the previous crew of guys from Washington, D.C., trying to dress down,” Breed said.
Breed was angry EPA and CDPHE officials couldn’t provide answers to the amount of time a Superfund would take, or where the funding would come from. He especially took offense that EPA officials said the site would not be given any special consideration, given the fact the federal agency triggered the blowout.
“We’re in a unique situation to help the EPA change itself as an institution,” he said. “They’re moribund and complacent to the fact they can’t do anything without this incredibly long process.”
On Thursday, La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said the county met with EPA and CDPHE in preparation for the board’s Jan. 12 decision on whether to support Superfund status.
“I’m very supportive of being nominated for the NPL in March, and not waiting till September,” Lachelt said. “We encouraged them to involve us along with the town of Silverton and San Juan County because we consider ourselves directly impacted, not just by the Gold King spill but overall water quality in the Animas.”
Gardner, on Thursday, said officials hope to formally draft a provision in the Superfund agreement that mandates the local community’s voice will be considered in future decision making, and assured neighbors downstream that Silverton staff is doing their due diligence.
“I see this as going forward,” he said. “There’s just too much realization that, ‘Hey, this problem has to be solved.’”