The Environmental Protection Agency named the Bonita Peak Mining District near Silverton one of its top priorities among Superfund sites across the country Friday.
“We understand that we have an obligation here,” EPA Regional Administrator Doug Benevento said in an interview Friday with The Durango Herald.
Many local and national officials saw the listing as the agency fulfilling commitments it made after the EPA in June 2015 released acid mine drainage into the Animas River watershed.
“That is exactly what was promised to us when we signed up for the National Priority List,” San Juan County Commissioner Pete McKay said of the recent announcement.
Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, and Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, and Gov. John Hickenlooper also supported the announcement.
“We applaud the EPA’s decision to prioritize the Bonita Peak Mining District site, and we encourage them to keep working with state officials to secure funding for a local community liaison based in Silverton to improve coordination,” Bennet said in a news release.
The Bonita Peak Mining District is one of 21 Superfund sites the agency targeted for immediate and intense attention.
“We are heavily invested in achieving tangible water-quality improvements in the Upper Animas watershed,” Benevento said.
While the list is expected to be dynamic, Benevento said the announcement signified a long-term commitment to the area.
Inclusion on the list is not a commitment of additional funding, according to a news release. But it does place an obligation on the regional administrator to make sure the project manager has the resources that she needs, Benevento said.
The EPA is working with Colorado, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to develop a five-year plan for the Bonita Peak area that outlines cleanup activities and remediation objectives, the release said.
The site includes 35 mines, seven tunnels, four tailings impoundments and two study areas where additional information is needed to evaluate environmental concerns.
Project Manager Rebecca Thomas expects human health and aquatic risk assessments to be finished in the spring and some cleanup work to start in the summer.
San Juan County commissioners McCay and Scott Fetchenhier also said some sites could be cleaned up in the short-term.
“There are a couple sites with tailings that could be cleaned up pretty quickly,” Fetchenhier said.
McCay said understanding the flows of polluted water in the Gladstone area and how best to mitigate those is an immediate priority.
“It is really going to take some study,” he said.