With most members set, a citizens group that aims to provide input on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund site of mining areas around Silverton will meet for the first time Thursday.
In fall 2016, the EPA formally designated the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site, which consists of nearly 50 mine-related sites around Silverton that contribute to degrading water quality in the Animas River.
As part of every Superfund site, those invested in the community have the option of forming a Community Advisory Group, more commonly known as a CAG, to provide direct input to the EPA about cleanup activities and other issues.
For the past few months, Peter Butler with the Animas River Stakeholders Group, Ty Churchwell with Trout Unlimited and Marcel Gaztambide, the Animas River keeper for the San Juan Citizens Alliance, have worked as a formation committee to help create a group of 15 members.
In all, Butler said more than 30 people, mostly from La Plata County, applied to be part of the group.
Butler said government entities were given the option to appoint their own representation. Otherwise, the formation committee tried to pick people with a diverse range of interests, from mining to recreation to conservation. The committee also tried to pick people from all age groups.
As of Monday, the city of Durango, La Plata County and the town of Silverton had not appointed a member to represent their interests.
Megan Graham, spokeswoman for La Plata County, said a person will be appointed this week. Calls to the town of Silverton were not returned, but Butler said he expected the town will appoint someone to the group.
The CAG’s formation committee first reached out to the city of Durango in August to appoint someone to the group. City Manager Ron LeBlanc said Monday the city has been “really, really busy” and staff “hasn’t gotten around” to appointing a person.
The Southern Ute Indian Tribe said it was not interested in joining.
For the first few meetings, Butler said members will work out how the CAG will operate, how many times it will meet and long-term goals. Meetings are expected to alternate between Silverton and Durango.
While two members represent interests in Aztec and Farmington, this CAG will focus solely on Colorado-specific issues. EPA guidelines say there can be multiple CAGs for one Superfund, though communities in New Mexico and the Navajo Nation, also affected by mining pollution around Silverton, have not formed a CAG.
CAGs throughout the country have proved beneficial to help guide EPA decision-making on Superfund sites. In April 2018, The Durango Herald spoke with several people in former CAGs in Colorado, many of whom said it was a worthwhile endeavor having their voices heard.
Rebecca Thomas, EPA’s project manager for the Superfund site, wrote in an email Monday that since the first meeting will be primarily organizational for the newly-formed group, the agency will not be attending. She said the Superfund’s site team will be represented by a staff member from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
“We appreciate the efforts of the formation committee in bringing a variety of community interests together,” Thomas wrote.
Thursday’s meeting will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at Silverton Town Hall. The meeting is open to the public.