An Environmental Protection Agency public meeting Tuesday was a learning experience for residents further downstream of the Superfund site that targets mines around Silverton.
The meeting, held at the Durango Public Library, was nearly identical to a presentation the night before at Silverton Town Hall, as the EPA updates the communities along the Animas and San Juan watersheds on its work during the summer. The EPA recently designated the Bonita Peak Mining District as a Superfund site, and the agency is preparing a report on how best to clean up the mining region.
The EPA is holding other public meetings this week in Ignacio (closed to nontribal members) and Shiprock, New Mexico.
In Durango, one attendee asked if there were any active mines in Silverton – the last one closed in 1991 – and another person questioned if there had been any water-quality sampling conducted before last year’s Gold King Mine blowout. The Animas River Stakeholders Group has been testing the water and leading cleanup efforts in the basin for more than 20 years.
“I followed it lightly before the spill,” resident Dave Crawford said of his awareness that heavy metal loading into the Animas River has been a long-standing problem.
“But after the spill, yeah, obviously it got my attention like everyone else.”
Jenn Clayton, an eight-year resident of Durango, said because she studied environmental biology at Fort Lewis College, having done her thesis on river water quality, she knew just how complicated the hydrology of the region is.
“I think we can do a better job than what we’ve done in the past,” Clayton said. “It’s a great start, but I think it could be more expansive. And I’m interested to see any innovative technologies we can use for the mine cleanup.”
Karen and Ron Morford, who have lived in the Durango area on and off for 25 years, said they were pleased with the EPA’s update meeting, and they are generally supportive of the agency’s efforts in the basin.
“It’s going to be a slow, dragged-out process,” Ron Morford said of the Superfund program. “But meetings like these just bring the community together.”
The EPA, for its part, rehashed the work it and other agencies performed over the summer, including a sweeping sampling of the watershed that will be used to formulate a plan over the winter for a cleanup.