By Mark Esper
The Environmental Protection Agency is still reviewing draft reports from the contractor hired to study the impact of runoff from mine sites along Cement Creek to determine if the area qualifies for designation as a Superfund site.
The creek has long been considered one of the worst sources of metals contamination of the upper Animas River basin, owing to water gushing from abandoned mines in the Gladstone area.
The Animas River Stakeholders Group is hosting a forum tonight at Silverton Town Hall to discuss past and future mine remediation work and current water quality issues.
Last year the EPA launched a preliminary assessment to determine if the complex of mines could qualify for the National Priorities List, which would make it eligible for the so-called Superfund.
Superfund is officially called the Comprehensive Environ-mental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.
Enacted by Congress in 1980, it created a tax on the chemical and petroleum industry to establish a trust fund for major environmental cleanups.
And the law provided for liability of persons responsible for releases of hazardous wastes.
The first step of the process for listing Superfund sites is for the EPA to do a preliminary assessment and inspection. If the site is deemed hazardous enough, it is placed on a National Priorities List and a plan is developed to remediate the contamination.
Sabrina Forrest, site assessment manager for the EPA in Denver, said Tuesday that “no decisions have really been made” on whether abandoned mines along Cement Creek would be put on the National Priorities List.
Forrest said she is reviewing “lots of analytical data” and expects to present findings next month.
“I need to review it, comment on it, and brief management before I can brief the community and the Animas River Stakeholders,” Forrest said. She said that includes looking for “data gaps and things like that.”
The preliminary assessment work focuses on a cluster of mine sites at and above Gladstone, including the American Tunnel, Gold King Number 7 level, the Mogul and Grand Mogul and the Red and Bonita mines.
Since 2009 and prior to the site reassessment, the EPA and ARSG members have focused on collecting water-quality data from mine adits and other mining-impacted drainages to see how water quality and flows have been changing since the American Tunnel was plugged and water treatment in Gladstone was stopped in 2004. Those data are not of the type EPA would exclusively use for the HRS model.
Forrest said Superfund listing is “one potential tool in the tool box” in the EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment.
Forrest also noted that Superfund listing “needs community support” and state support in the form of a governor’s letter to the EPA.
The Animas River Stakeholders Group was formed in 1994 as a collaborative approach to water quality issues in the region and as an alternative to a Superfund designation in the area. It includes representatives from the EPA, Colorado Department of Health and Environment, the San Juan Public Lands Office, and community members interested in water quality issues in the upper Animas Basin.