Nearly 50 mines in and around San Juan County are proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency to be part of a Superfund site that would be called the Bonita Pike Mining District Site, according to documents released Friday.
The documents, posted on the Silverton website, come after months of negotiation between the EPA and local officials over such things as site boundaries, the site name and local involvement.
The release precedes a Monday vote by San Juan County commissioners and Silverton town trustees on a resolution directing Gov. John Hickenlooper to request National Priorities Listing to clean up mine pollution affecting the Animas River.
“We hope members of the public will review the information we have posted on the website and come to Monday’s meeting with any questions they have,” Silverton Town Administrator Bill Gardner said in a prepared statement. “This is a tough decision for everyone in our community.”
The community has spent months coming to terms with the EPA over the nuts and bolts of Superfund listing to address area mines that have polluted the watershed for years. The documents posted Friday list 26 mines affecting the Upper Animas, seven that impact Mineral Creek and 15 that affect Cement Creek, including the Gold King Mine, from which 3 million gallons of metal-laden sludge poured on Aug. 5, 2015, when an EPA team breached the portal.
Also posted is Silverton’s draft letter to the governor and a letter from the EPA promising to include the community in decisions related to Superfund cleanup, which Silverton has demanded from the start.
“It didn’t cover everything, but I think they provided us with some of the critical issues,” San Juan County Manager William Tookey told The Durango Herald earlier this week regarding the letter.
But Silverton residents have lingering questions.
Sharon Lantz referenced a town hall meeting last fall when an EPA representative told community members that Superfund status would spike their property values 18 percent – a figure that reappears on the fact sheet posted Friday.
“I spoke to a tenured Realtor in Leadville who told me that their home values dropped by an amazing 80 percent,” Lantz posted Friday on Facebook. “I think the EPA’s statement is disingenuous at best. Have any of our elected officials talked to real estate professionals?”
The site boundaries for Superfund were narrowed after Silverton protested the parameters were too big. The EPA also has agreed to look at establishing a community advisory group to keep the Silverton community informed throughout the process.
Long-term objectives include prolonging the operation of the EPA’s water treatment plant, ensuring that the EPA will not go after innocent landowners, and continued monitoring of the area’s water quality.
While a formal consensus from Silverton is pending, the EPA has moved ahead with a Superfund petition.
A letter dated Feb. 19 from the EPA’s Region 8 office to the governor seeks the state’s cooperation in adding the Bonita Peak Mining District to the National Priorities List.
“We knew that was coming,” said Mark Eddy, a hired strategic consultant for Silverton. “Because everything is in a compressed time frame and the governor will have such short turnaround, the EPA felt like they needed to get the letter to the governor to make sure it was in.”
Silverton officials delayed a scheduled January vote on Superfund over unresolved issues with the EPA.
Monday’s meeting, set for 4 p.m. at Town Hall, will be the community’s last chance to vote on the matter, as Hickenlooper has a Feb. 29 deadline to formally request consideration for Superfund status in March.