The squeaky wheel gets the grease, goes the old saw about persistence in demanding attention.
It certainly applies to bureaucracy, especially in light of the Dec. 8 announcement by the Environmental Protection Agency that the Bonita Peak Mining District is now on the agency’s list of Superfund sites “targeted for immediate, intense action.” It is the only Superfund site in Colorado to be so designated.
This is a positive development. It speaks highly of the commitment of our region’s elected officials, organizers and volunteers, and of the volume of their calls for prompt action to clean up the persistent pollution problems killing aquatic life in the Animas River watershed downstream of the district’s abandoned mines.
The agency made clear that the 21 sites on the “immediate and intense” list are not necessarily the most contaminated, or the largest sites in the country. Unfortunately, they will not benefit from additional federal funding, an oversight that needs to be corrected.
The selected sites should, however, “benefit from the EPA administrator’s extra attention or directed focus in order to facilitate near-term site progress.” In other words, EPA director Scott Pruitt – who has made Superfund cleanup an agency priority – will have an active role in ensuring that the agency’s project administrators of the listed sites complete their studies and plans and make the decisions necessary to expedite cleanup.
Did the agency’s role in causing the 2015 Gold King Mine spill play a part in landing Bonita Peak on this list? Most likely.
But Ty Churchwell, a local coordinator with the San Juan Clean Water Coalition, gives credit to the squeaky wheel as well. In June, he traveled to Washington, D.C. with La Plata County Commissioner Brad Blake, San Juan County Commissioner Scott Fetchenhier and Durango city councilor Dean Brookie.
“We met with the EPA’s top brass and the Colorado (congressional) delegation,” Churchwell said. “We had two primary messages: Visit Silverton and Durango to see this problem in person, (and) make the Bonita Peak District a top priority.”
In August, Scott Pruitt came to town, met with elected officials and toured the project. On Dec. 8, he put Bonita Peak on this list of top priority sites.
We have two primary messages for all the individuals, elected officials, coalitions and organizations in our region working to ensure the Bonita Peak Superfund process succeeds:
Thanks for your efforts. And keep making all that squeaky, strident and necessary noise.