The first meeting of a citizen’s work group concerning the recently declared Superfund site near Silverton met Wednesday night, with a heavy emphasis on the history of mining in the Animas River watershed.
“A major federal process like this can feel incredibly overwhelming,” said Ty Churchwell with Trout Unlimited.
“This is a big federal project, and you the citizen do have some say on how this process moves forward.”
The Environmental Protection Agency last fall declared 46 mining sites and two study areas around San Juan County as the “Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund” site, a year after the agency caused the Gold King Mine spill.
A major selling point for the communities of Silverton and San Juan County, historically opposed to a Superfund listing, was a promise they would have a seat at the table for major decision-making.
Since, Durango’s neighbor to the north has appointed a six-person planning committee that meets with EPA on a regular basis in closed meetings to discuss particulars of the Superfund process.
Wednesday night’s “Citizen Superfund Workgroup” was a result of several local watershed groups that wanted to give citizens a say on coming up with a set of goals the Superfund should address, and eventually present it to the EPA.
“There’s already a fair amount of input given locally in Silverton,” said Peter Butler, coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group.
“We thought we ought to have some discussion down here.”
About 50 people attended the two-hour meeting at the La Plata County Commissioners room at 1101 East Second Ave.
While many in attendance were familiar faces in Animas River Stakeholders Group and EPA meetings, a scattering of people were members of the public new to the issue of mine pollution in the Animas River.
Wayne Schrader, who has lived in Durango since 2010, said he attended the meeting to learn more about the history of the issue, and was most taken aback by the complexity of the network of mines and the detriment to the ecosystem they cause.
“I’m a river lover, I fish, and I’m concerned about it,” Schrader said. “I’m glad that a Superfund was declared.”
Sonya Johnson, who also moved to Durango in 2010, said Wednesday’s meeting was a good primer on the history of mining in the San Juan Mountains around Silverton.
“You go up there and you hike and you see these mining sites, and you just don’t know much else about it,” she said.
“I came away with a lot more information. It’s definitely something that affects us all.”
The group intends to take a tour of mine sites on Sept. 9, and then hold other meetings in October, January and February. The goal is to draft recommendations by that time, or if needed, schedule more meetings.
Julia Hanson, a Durango resident who works for a local environmental consulting firm, said she’d like the EPA to assess the watershed and determine what the most efficient cleanup is.
“I want to see the life come back,” she said.
“I want the waste cleaned up and remediated. And I want water people aren’t afraid of.”
The EPA, for its part, was not in attendance Wednesday, but has said on many occasions that the agency takes public comment into consideration.
The EPA has a formal process for local input, called a “Citizen Advisory Group.” Butler previously said this work group could turn into an official EPA advisory group if deemed necessary.