The Environmental Protection Agency’s quick-action plan to clean up mine sites in the Superfund area around Silverton in the next five years was approved and finalized Thursday, and work is expected to begin this summer.
The EPA said in a news release Thursday morning that cleanup activities will begin this summer on 23 of the mine sites selected that “present clear human and environmental risks.” Full completion is expected within three to five years and cost up to $10 million.
The plan, the EPA has said, serves as an early action response that will run concurrent with the agency drafting a more comprehensive, long-term plan for the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund, which is made up of 48 mining sites identified as contributors to degrading water quality in the Animas River.
Christina Progess, EPA remedial project manager, said work this summer might be delayed because of all the snow in the high country. In the meantime, she said the agency is securing funding and contracting to move quickly once the snow melts.
“It really is up to Mother Nature,” she said.
After the EPA first proposed the quick-action plan in June 2018, the agency received a number of public comments that voiced concern that the agency did not properly weigh the benefits the cleanup actions would have, considering the cost of the project.
And many people who responded during a public comment period about the proposed plan suggested the money could be spent on the top-polluting mines instead of the smaller polluters, which would have a greater effect on improving water quality.
“Why is EPA not prioritizing where it can get the ‘biggest bang for the buck’ in terms of dollars spent for mine remediation?” wrote Peter Butler with the Animas River Stakeholders Group in public comments.
Progess, however, said a lot of the proposed work is to maintain existing remediation structures, such as sediment ponds built to capture contaminants that are overflowing.
Also, Progess said work will stabilize mine areas to reduce the amount of erosion. Sampling will occur before and after the work, she said, to measure water quality.
“This is not intended to be the entirety of the cleanup,” Progess said.
According to the finalized plan, the EPA said it reviewed all comments, yet found “no significant changes to the remedy, as originally identified in the proposed plan, were necessary.”
But Rob Parker, EPA remedial project manager, said public comment was taken into account. For instance, EPA will refine how it will address cleaning up a few camping areas around Silverton the agency believes pose a risk to human health.
“Our interest is not in capping entire camping areas,” he said. “But isolating those areas that have elevated concentrations.”
The EPA originally listed 26 mining sites in the early action plan, yet Thursday’s announcement shows that number has been decreased to 23 sites because cleanup on three of them is expected to be completed later.
Work will include:
Diverting mine wastewater discharges, as well as stormwater, from mine portals around contaminated waste piles.Excavating sediment from ponds intended to catch mine wastewater, as well as repairing berms that form ponds.Removing waste that impedes flows or waste that is susceptible to erosion or leaching of contaminates on an interim basis.Cleanup of recreation areas the EPA says present a risk to human health. Waste will be contained or isolated using covers to reduce disturbances of mine firstname.lastname@example.org