Cleanup of the mercury contaminated Red Arrow Mill site on Grand Avenue just outside Mancos will move forward when a bankruptcy court in Texas gives the OK, according to an Environmental Protection Agency official.
"I'm hopeful we can start late this spring at least on the mill building," said Craig Myers, the EPA on-scene coordinator.
Mining inspectors and EPA officials investigated the site and reported last year there were unsafe levels of mercury at the illegal mill site after workers used the heavy metal to process gold. During the fall, all the potentially contaminated materials were contained. The EPA announced in December that no major immediate health risks existed.
The mill has been closed since April 2013 when the Red Arrow Gold fell into bankruptcy.
The EPA will not have wait until the case is settled to move forward with the cleanup because that could take years, Myers said.
However, the timeframe is dependent on the court. When the project is allowed to move forward, a community meeting will be held a few days before it starts so officials can review the plan with the public.
The cleanup will be covered by federal Superfund dollars and is estimated to cost $300,000 to $500,000. The local community will not have to contribute to the project. But the EPA may try to recover some costs from responsible parties after the bankruptcy case is settled.
The entire plan for the cleanup has not been finalized, but the EPA does know what generally will have to be done, he said.
The first step will be removing all the equipment from the building and placing it in containers.
The mercury levels on the objects will be tested, and workers will make a decision about the cost benefit of cleaning it versus disposing it.
Particularly large equipment may go through a similar process and may be cleaned with power washers or zinc powder. Workers will also decontaminate the building and dispose of the waste chemicals and process water stored outside the buildings.
The large piles of contaminated dirt left on the property will have to be treated and moved to either the Red Arrow Mine site or a landfill where it would be stored in a container that would prevent leaching.
It would preferable to move it back to the mine site, Myers said, so it wouldn't fill up limited space in the landfill.
"Putting dirt or soil into them is not a great use of that facility," he said.
The ultimate destination of the soil will be also be determined by court proceedings and who takes ownership of the mine.
The court hearings have been continuously rescheduled since January, and the next one is not scheduled until April 30, according to court documents.