The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday sent a letter to Silverton officials proposing a Superfund site for the discharging mine district responsible for degrading water quality in the Animas River.
Last month, Silverton town trustees and San Juan County commissioners canceled a vote that would have directed Gov. John Hickenlooper to request a Superfund listing for a March review.
Officials for La Plata County’s northern neighbor cited too many unresolved issues, mainly the boundaries of the Superfund, reimbursements for costs related to the Gold King mine blowout, and an assurance local entities will have a say in future decision making.
When news of the delay made its way downstream, the Durango City Council sent its own letter to Hickenlooper asking for Superfund status, claiming the town and other communities dependent on the river were more impacted by the Aug. 5 mine blowout than the small mountain hamlet of 600 residents.
On Feb. 5, Durango and Silverton officials, along with Hickenlooper, met in Denver, with all sides leaving the meeting optimistic a Superfund consideration wouldn’t have to wait until the next review period in September.
That, presumably, is what led to Friday’s memorandum.
In his letter, Superfund remedial program director Bill Murray inches toward meeting Silverton’s terms, albeit under the legalese of a large bureaucratic federal agency.
“The EPA acknowledges that there is a vast amount of local knowledge, information and expertise relating to the potential Superfund site, and will actively involve the Town and County governments in the Superfund process to the maximum extent practicable,” Murray wrote.
Murray goes on to say the EPA is committed to considering new technologies for remediation and naming the site the Bonita Peak Mining District Site. He even suggests the community set up an advisory group to remain engaged in the cleanup process.
The actual Superfund site boundaries, however, remain unclear.
“Because the boundaries of the site are being defined so as to permit study of possible sources, if data gathered during the project demonstrate that any property is not a significant contributor to contamination of the Animas River or its tributaries, the EPA may redefine the site boundaries as appropriate and will provide a confirming letter to the relevant property owners,” Murray wrote.
Silverton and San Juan County officials have until Feb. 29 to decide whether to accept federal intervention, a notion the town has rebuffed for the last 20-plus years as water quality has worsened in the Animas basin, resulting in the decline of trout in the river.
In a prepared statement, Silverton and San Juan County spokesman Mark Eddy was noncommittal on what the town’s response to the EPA’s letter would be.
“We received the letter shortly before it was made public,” Eddy wrote. “We have made good progress in our discussions with the EPA regarding a Superfund listing. We are reviewing the letter to determine the full impact of the commitments the EPA has made.”
For Silverton and San Juan County to formally pursue a Superfund listing, officials would have to hold a special meeting and vote on a resolution, directing Hickenlooper to request the EPA’s hazardous cleanup program.