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  • Officials: Plan to clean up under jail may fall short

    La Plata County frustrated in battle with rifle scope company over contamination

    More than two years after La Plata County went to trial against a rifle scope manufacturer over the soil and groundwater contamination beneath the jail in Bodo Industrial Park, the county has released a plan to clean up the site.

    The plan reflects cleanup actions ordered in the 2011 federal court decision that laid out how site remediation costs would be divided between the county and Brown Group Retail Inc., which manufactured Redfield rifle scopes.

    But state and county environmental officials already doubt the plan will be completely effective.

    “Basically, the judge reduced the scope of remediation in a manner that we feel does not address the source area contamination, and he has also eliminated monitoring or addressing of off-site contamination, which were two major issues we are concerned about,” said Colleen Brisnehan, an environmental protection specialist with Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

    The county’s 16-page plan is open to public comment until March 30. However, the county cannot alter the plan in response to comments because the remedial actions were laid out in a court order, said Todd Weaver, deputy county attorney.

    “Our hands are kind of tied here,” Weaver said.

    Digging into contamination mystery

    The county’s remedial plan is the product of a long and costly legal process between the county and Brown Group, which operated a Redfield rifle-scope manufacturing plant on the property from the mid-1970s until 1982.

    The county bought the property from Brown Group in 1983 and remodeled it for use as the detention center, which opened in 1985.

    La Plata County first became aware of possible contamination underneath the jail in 2003. It ordered multiple tests of the site that confirmed that chemical solvents used to clean the rifle scopes had leached into soil and groundwater on the property. The chemicals can cause a range of harmful health effects, including dizziness, lung irritation and damage to the nervous system, liver and lungs, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Two of the chemicals, trichloroethylene and 1,4-Dioxane, probably cause cancer according to the Environmental Protection Agency and International Agency for Research on Cancer.

    The tests showed that levels of solvents in both the soil and groundwater exceeded Colorado state standards.

    The county’s tests also found that chemicals had filtered into the air inside the jail, but the levels were not high enough to present a risk to human health.

    In 2010, the county developed a plan to address the contamination through a combination of excavation, soil vapor extraction and soil injections to break down the chemicals.

    Taking to the courts

    Two years earlier, in 2008, the county sued Brown Group in U.S. District Court in Denver to recover the costs of past and future testing, monitoring and cleanup work.

    In March 2011, U.S. Senior Judge Lewis Babcock issued an order that laid out specific remediation actions that were allowed for reimbursement by the county. The court order, which included only the cleanup actions both parties could agree on, stripped away several components of La Plata County’s original plan, reducing the injection wells required, eliminated soil excavation and soil vapor extraction and struck indoor air monitoring requirements. Babcock ordered Brown Group to pay for 75 percent of the proposed remedial actions which will total about $830,000. He also ordered Brown Group to reimburse the county almost $700,000 in past costs related to the site.

    Both the county and the state health department say they have doubts about the modified cleanup plan because it requires injection wells to be drilled only downslope, or east of, the source of contamination instead of above it to the west of the jail. The government officials disagreed with Brown Group’s assessment of groundwater flows, saying the court-ordered plan could even lead to a recontamination of treated soil and groundwater.

    “... It should be noted that the Department would not approve of this Revised Proposed Plan if it were submitted at any other contaminated property,” Brisnehan wrote in her comments on the plan, released in January.

    Calls for comment made to Brown Group company representatives and its legal council were not returned Friday.

    If groundwater monitoring shows the first round of injection wells aren’t effective, the court order left the door open for the county to be reimbursed for additional remedial work, Brisnehan said.

    The county estimated that performing another round of cleanups could cost much more than if it would have followed the $2 million plan it created in 2010. At their most expensive, the county said remedial actions could total $6 million.

    Though it was not mandated by the judge, the county will continue to test the indoor air quality of the jail, Weaver said.

    ecowan@durangoherald.com

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