What should the Environmental Protection Agency’s recently declared Superfund listing on 48-mining related sites around Silverton accomplish over the next several years?
That’s the question a newly formed citizens committee hopes to address at its first next week.
“This (the Superfund site) is going to be a fairly long term, big dollar effort up there,” said Peter Butler, of the Animas River Stakeholders Group. “We just felt like it was important that the local community put some thought on how this money is spent and what we expect to get out of it.”
Four local watershed groups – Animas River Stakeholders Group, Animas River Community Forum, Animas Watershed Partnership and Trout Unlimited – are leading the effort with the intent to create a formal set of goals to present to the EPA.
Almost one year ago, the EPA formally listed the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site in the upper Animas River basin in an effort to reduce heavy metal loading from inactive mines responsible for degrading water quality.
The designation came just a year after the August 2015 Gold King Mine spill, which sent an estimated 3 million gallons of mine wastewater down the Animas and San Juan rivers. The spill was triggered by EPA contractors working on the mine.
One of the EPA’s main selling points to the Silverton and Durango communities was a promise that local input would be valued and taken into account in the planning process.
The EPA has been noted for living up to its word so far; it has held community meetings regularly in Silverton and Durango, as well as Farmington, and has met with locally elected officials on a regular basis.
But some local officials say it is essential to influence early on the EPA’s plan to address the plan to cleanup such a widespread Superfund site that is estimated to take anywhere from 20 to 30 years to complete.
“Potentially over $100 million of taxpayer funds could be utilized in the cleanup over the next 15-20 years,” a news release for the event said. “The Citizens Superfund Workgroup is designed to provide a forum, outside of EPA’s periodic public outreach efforts, for the community to better understand the issues involved in the cleanup and to develop outcomes or goals the community would like to see given enormous effort that will be put into this Superfund site.”
The EPA does have a formal process for local input through what the agency calls a “Citizen Advisory Group,” which is typically driven by local efforts and is made up of a diverse range of local interests.
Butler said the upcoming “Citizens Superfund Workgroup” is not such a group at this point, but could turn into one.
The group will hold its first meeting in August, and then take a tour of mine sites on Sept. 9. Other meetings will be scheduled in October, January and February. The group hopes to draft recommendations to EPA in February.