Continued operations of the temporary water treatment plant north of Silverton received near unanimous support during a 30-day public comment period.
From Nov. 14 to Dec. 14, the Environmental Protection Agency accepted public comments on whether to continue operations at the plant that handles acidic discharges from the Gold King Mine.
The EPA previously announced it preferred that option while it continues to evaluate long-term options for the recently declared Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site, which would address issues at 48 mining-related sites around Silverton.
The public comment period was part of a formal process to move the plant from “emergency removal action” funding to a “non-time critical removal action” funding, which is part of the Superfund process.
The agency received 12 submissions, mostly from government entities affected by the Aug. 5, 2015, Gold King Mine blowout, with only one resident weighing in.
The government entities in favor of continued operations included the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment; the Colorado Attorney General’s Office; La Plata County; San Juan County; the town of Silverton; the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, and Congressman Scott Tipton.
Trout Unlimited, an environmental group, and Duranglers Flies and Supplies also voiced support for keeping the plant running.
While all the above-mentioned entities voiced support for continued operations, some suggested the EPA start treating discharges from adjacent mines, namely the Red & Bonita and Mogul mines, as well as the American Tunnel.
Others wrote that the EPA should secure a place to store the lime-heavy metal sludge byproduct of the treatment plant before committing to continued operation. The EPA has said it is searching for a long-term dump site.
Sunnyside Gold Corp. did not take a stance either way on the treatment plant. The company, which mined the region from 1985 to 1991, wrote to the EPA that its mine pool behind the American Tunnel has not contributed to increased discharges out of adjacent mines (Gold King, Red & Bonita). It’s an argument the company has long maintained.
A representative from Silverton Mountain Ski Area, which is about a mile and a half downstream from the water treatment plant, raised concerns about the treatment plant’s impact on ski operations.
The ski mountain’s chief operating officer, Tim Petrick, asked the EPA to consider installing better equipment for improved communications in the remote area, as well as perform dust suppression on County Road 110.
And a Castle Rock-based company called Jalema Technologies Ltd. that deals with mine wastewater treatment said the EPA could cut costs of operations “if a more studied plant design was implemented at the site.” The company then argued it had the technology to “produce higher quality discharge water for a cost similar to that shown for” the temporary plant, and offered its services.
One resident voiced support for the continuance of the plant, though the name was redacted.
Rebecca Thomas, EPA’s project manager for the Superfund site, said the agency will consider the comments and then make a decision through an “action memo.”
She expected the final decision to be issued in January.