Colo. governor seeks Superfund for site of EPA mine spill

Colorado’s governor is formally asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to put the site of last year’s major mine waste spill into the Superfund program. 

The Monday letter to the EPA follows a vote earlier in February by residents of the county with the mine to endorse Superfund designation.

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Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) qualified his support for Superfund with the caveat that the EPA reduce harm as much as possible to nearby mining communities.

The EPA and a contractor were doing preliminary work on the abandoned Gold King Mine in August when a series of failed assumptions lead 3 million gallons of toxic sludge with heavy metals to flow into a tributary of the Animas River, turning it bright orange.

The designation the governor is seeking would apply to an area with 47 other abandoned hardrock mines that are leaking heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead and zinc.

“Based on the complexity and anticipated costs of remediating the Bonita Peak Mining District site, it appears that the best program to undertake a comprehensive cleanup is" the Superfund process, Hickenlooper wrote.

But any cleanup will only get the governor’s support “so long as certain protections are put in place to address the concerns of the local communities that would be affected,” he said.

Superfund designation under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act would mobilize EPA resources to direct cleanup of the mines and the contaminants. The EPA could use its own funding and try to hold companies or their successors responsible for the contamination, but the entire cleanup could take decades.

Nearby residents and leaders had resisted Superfund designation for many years, believing it would dampen what they had hoped would be a new tourism industry in the area.

The EPA has long supported Superfund for the mining district, and with Hickenlooper’s blessing, could quickly start the process toward potential remedies.