News stories in La Plata County in 2015 ran the gamut of topics. Among the top was the Gold King Mine blowout. Mark Redwine, father of Dylan Redwine and whose death is still unsolved, made headlines again. We saw just how costly it can be to live in Durango. And we saw how a much-debated public art sculpture sustained damage at the hands of unknown vandals. Here’s a look at the tops news of the year:
Gold King Mine spill: While doing work on the Gold King Mine north of Silverton, the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally hit a wall inside the mine and unleashed 3 million gallons of metals-laden wastewater into the Animas River. Acid wastewater from the abandoned mine coursed through La Plata County, and turned the river a murky orange color, attracting residents to its banks to see the sludge as it slowly moved downstream. The wastewater flowed into the San Juan River in New Mexico. For nearly a month, the towns of and surrounding Durango and Farmington, as well as the Navajo Nation, had to quickly react to the lack of water and recreation. Tourists canceled their vacations. Government leaders worked to get answers from the EPA – an agency that most of the time is cleaning up pollution, not causing it. The financial loss by individuals, businesses and government agencies is still being tallied, but estimates put it in the millions of dollars. Though this event was not the first time mining activity in San Juan County flooded and polluted the Animas River and other waterways, it had been more than 30 years since it happened on this scale. The spill caught the world’s attention, and it set in motion efforts for a federal Superfund designation.
Housing prices hit peak: The median home price in La Plata County reached a high of $440,000, topping the $426,000 mark hit in 2006 before the recession began.
Arc of history a target: Vandals took to the much-debated sculpture, breaking multiple rocks on the arms of the sandstone piece of art. The damage was estimated at $28,000.
Purgatory gets new owner: Durango businessman James Coleman bought Durango Mountain Resort and quickly changed it to its former name, Purgatory Resort, winning favor among locals.
Methane leak causes hot spot: Scientists began studying if leakage around the San Juan Basin is a result of energy-industry activities or a natural occurrence.
Homelessness’ growing visibility: The Herald’s four-part series delved into misconceptions about our homeless population and actions that are needed to decrease the number of people seeking shelter.
Bears threaten campers: In June, a bear attacked two men whose illegal camp near the Durango Tech Center was strewn with trash, resulting in wildlife officials killing the bear.
Bayfield Football wins: The boys high school team won the Division II championship title, 19 years after it won its first state victory.
Bus Safety Questioned: In November, a Durango School District 9-R bus driver became distracted and rolled off Lightner Creek Road with 44 children on board. There were no fatalities, but the incident spurred discussion about safety and training of drivers.
POwerhouse Science Center closes: The nonprofit temporarily crumbled in May under an unsustainable business model. Its executive director resigned, and all staff members were let go. With a retooled vision, the center reopened its doors in September.
Mark Redwine stays in headlines: The father of Dylan Redwine, a teenager who went missing in November 2012 and whose remains were found in June 2013, was named a “person of interest” in the criminal investigation. Law enforcement also classified the case as a homicide. Nobody has been arrested in connection with Dylan’s death.
Silverton goes for Superfund: After decades of mining activity in the Silverton Caldera, San Juan County officials voted to seek federal Superfund listing to work to clean up contamination.