The public comment period for the proposed Superfund designation north of Silverton closed June 13, and while it has taken a few weeks for responses to filter in, one thing is abundantly clear: Support vastly outweighs opposition.
The 60-day public comment period for the Bonita Peak Mining District site, which started April 6 and was subsequently extended a week, garnered 48 responses.
Most respondents favor the Environmental Protection Agency declaring the mines around the Silverton caldera a Superfund site. Included in the pro side are two mass petitions from Conservation Colorado and San Juan Citizens Alliance, both with hundreds of signatures.
“I fully recognize that our town would not exist if it weren’t for the mining industry in the Northern San Juan Mountains, but the reality is that mining is not coming back to our region in the form it once took,” wrote an anonymous commenter from Durango.
“Today, we have an environmental problem on our hands. We also have an economic problem in Silverton. Just as the miners created space for the economic and cultural success in Durango, we must now make our best efforts to create a new space for the town of Silverton.”
Ed Morlan, executive director for the Region 9 Economic Development District, said the Gold King Mine spill in August has had a significant economic impact on the communities downstream.
“The impacts are continuing and the event has pointed out additional potential disasters from the scores of other abandoned mine sites in the drainage,” Morlan wrote. “A public investment now to mitigate the situation could avoid much higher financial and environmental costs in the future.”
In their letter of support, La Plata County commissioners encouraged the EPA to look beyond the proposed 48-mining related sites if the agency intends to improve water quality throughout the Animas River.
“We question whether, in light of the fact that there are more than 300 abandoned mines that pose a risk to the Animas Watershed, that the 40+ mines identified in the listing adequately address all mines posing a risk.”
Michael Constantine, a 16-year resident of Silverton who owns a mining claim, expressed support from a town that historically opposed the designation, fearing it would affect tourism and any chance mining could return.
“If Gold King was masterminded by government as part of its evil conspiracy of cleaning up Corporate America’s unacceptable mess – I say bravo,” Constantine wrote. “For decades now, I’ve listened to those born into mining culture pine for the return of large scale mining. Well, here it is. But in reverse.”
Those opposed to the designation, which accounted for only for handful of responses, cited wariness over federal intervention, the slow process of Superfund and questioned whether pollutant levels in the Animas warranted such a cleanup.
“It is clear that E.P.A. has had an agenda to create the conditions necessary to force the area into a National Priorities Listing designation,” wrote one anonymous commenter.
Leo McCormick, a Durango native who owns a mining claim, said metal loading into the Animas has shown no actual health impacts.
“There is no good, or substantial science for this,” McCormick wrote of declaring a Superfund. “I believe it is to take away individual, and local community freedoms and make the citizens more dependent on Big Government. I am extremely and staunchly opposed to this program.”
There also were a small number of responses that were unclear on their stance regarding Superfund. A few contested certain mines included in the EPA’s proposal.
Aaron Brill, owner of Silverton Mountain, raised questions about how the listing would affect the ski mountain’s operation, which is among a number of mine sites.
“Dust suppression, maintaining the integrity of CR 110, establishing modern communications and the design of the water treatment facility at the Gold King are key issues that need to be addressed,” Brill wrote.
The EPA has said Superfund designation for the Bonita Peak Mining District would depend on the extent of public comments, and there’s a possibility it would not make the list in November.
“EPA is on track to finalize the NPL (National Priorities Listing) listing this fall, but ultimately the timeline is determined by the number and nature of comments received,” EPA spokeswoman Christie St. Clair said previously.