A Colorado gold mine that spilled more than 3 million gallons of wastewater into western rivers was among almost a dozen sites added Wednesday to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund National Priorities List.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday added an 18-acre contaminated groundwater site on the west side of Indianapolis to the National Priorities List of Superfund sites. This week the EPA declared the mine a Superfund priority, along with dozens of other nearby sites (collectively dubbed the Bonita Peak Mining District, for purposes of the Superfund application) paving the way for the resources to do long-needed remediation. “Listing the Bonita Peak Mining District is critical to addressing historic mining impacts in San Juan County and our downstream communities”, Martha Rudolph, director of environmental programs for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said in a statement.
Utilities and farmers temporarily stopped drawing water from the rivers for drinking and irrigation. New Mexico has sued both the EPA and Colorado over the spill, while the Navajo Nation sued the federal government. A separate criminal investigation is still underway, along with an internal EPA inquiry.
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the law establishing the Superfund program, requires EPA to update the NPL at least annually and clean up hazardous waste sites to protect human health with the goal of returning them to productive use.
Congress has conducted multiple hearings on the spill and is considering several bills to address hundreds of old, leaking mines nationwide.
Officials say it could take years, or even decades to complete the clean up.
The agency will then study different cleanup methods, choose a preferred option and ask for public comment. Today’s action means permanent cleanup can start.
The Superfund designation comes after months of negotiations with southwestern Colorado residents, who feared it could dampen the region’s vital tourism industry. The EPA does not designate Superfund sites without local support.
“I think we’re all in for one heck of an adventure”, said Mark Esper, editor of the Silverton Standard newspaper.
“I think people are really optimistic in the future of Silverton”.