Call on EPA to address remaining concerns of local communities. Urge agency to operate water treatment plant at full capacity, move claims and reimbursement process forward quickly
Washington, D.C. - Today, Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner and Congressman Scott Tipton sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy, along with Governor John Hickenlooper, urging the agency to implement the Superfund designation in a way that works for local communities. The letter also requests that the EPA run the temporary water treatment plant in Cement Creek at full capacity to treat more of the mine drainage, increase funding for and the scope of water-quality monitoring on the Animas River, and ensure that the EPA's claims and reimbursement process moves forward quickly.
The area was devastated by the Gold King Mine spill last August, which released millions of gallons of acid mine drainage into the Animas River jeopardizing the health, safety, and livelihoods of southwestern Coloradans.
In the letter the lawmakers wrote, "As we have expressed many times, the Gold King Mine spill last August was both a disaster and a wake-up call. The Towns of Silverton and Durango, San Juan and La Plata Counties, and the State of Colorado have now formally requested that your agency proceed with the proposed addition of the District to the National Priorities List. While there is now an effort to move forward with Superfund, it must be implemented in a way that works for the local communities and the State of Colorado."
Full text of the letter below:
April 11, 2016
The Honorable Gina McCarthy
United States Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington DC, 20460
Dear Administrator McCarthy:
The communities that we represent have formally requested a Superfund designation for the Bonita Peak Mining District (District) and we recognize there is state and local consensus on the matter. We write to ask that you work to address additional concerns that the Town of Silverton and San Juan County have expressed in the attached letters regarding the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposed listing of the District. We urge you to prioritize funding for this project as soon as possible to restore the health of Animas River watershed, protect public health, and maintain the local recreation and tourism economy.
As we have expressed many times, the Gold King Mine spill last August was both a disaster and a wake-up call. The Towns of Silverton and Durango, San Juan and La Plata Counties, and the State of Colorado have now formally requested that your agency proceed with the proposed addition of the District to the National Priorities List. While there is now an effort to move forward with Superfund, it must be implemented in a way that works for the local communities and the State of Colorado.
Specifically, we encourage the EPA to continue to collaborate with local, tribal and state officials and to form a community advisory group. The EPA must also work to protect the local economy, to maximize local employment opportunities where possible, and to provide adequate funding to ensure that the cleanup is not delayed. In addition, we encourage you to consider local concerns and not close the bulkhead installed on the Red and Bonita Mine before the effects of such a closure and the hydrology are fully understood. Although the underlying issues in this area are historical, the EPA must recognize its role in the most recent spill and its subsequent obligation to this community. For our part, we will work to ensure that the District will remain a priority within the Superfund program.
In addition, while EPA has improved water quality in the Animas River by placing a temporary water treatment plant on Cement Creek, we are concerned that this facility is not being used to its full capacity and may not operate beyond fall 2016. It is our understanding that this facility has the ability to treat more of the acid mine drainage in the watershed. We urge EPA to expand the scope of this plant and continue to operate it throughout the cleanup process.
We have also heard significant concerns from local communities that the current water quality monitoring on the Animas River is not sufficient. It is likely that spring runoff will remobilize the sediments and metals deposited during the spill into the water column. Better monitoring is essential to characterize the conditions and reassure local communities. Specifically, community members are concerned about whether fish in the river are safe to eat and if it is ok to let their kids and dogs play on the sand bars and in local swimming holes this summer. Those who draw water from the Animas for irrigation or drinking water supplies also need this information. The EPA must provide adequate funding and collaborate with local governments, tribes, and the state to conduct long-term monitoring along the Animas River and at sites of specific concern to each community. The funds pledged to date by EPA for these needs are insufficient.
Finally, we need to ensure that the EPA's claims and reimbursement process moves forward more quickly. Local municipalities, counties, tribes, and businesses incurred extensive costs due to the spill. We expect that the EPA will compensate those affected for any losses and encourage your agency to move more quickly to do so.
Thank you for your consideration.