Boon or boondoggle?
BRECKENRIDGE – When Wellington Neighborhood resident Sean McAllister considers the federal plan to move polluted mine waste from the Claimjumper parcel to a repository in the French Gulch drainage near his home, he sees a potential health risk to his young daughter.”My experience is that unlined repositories leak,” said McAllister, who spent three years as a Colorado assistant attorney general, working with federal and state environmental agencies on mine cleanups. McAllister said the proposal to move the rock, tainted with high concentrations of lead and arsenic, may not be the best way to go. Given the complex geology of the area, McAllister said there’s a risk that the planned dump site won’t contain the toxic heavy metals unless it’s properly lined and drained. That could lead to an increased risk of exposure for residents, he said. Current plans call for the repository to be capped with clean rock and monitored, according to standard mitigation procedures.Concentrations of lead in the Claimjumper rocks are high enough to pose a risk of elevated lead levels in humans with chronic exposure, EPA officials said. Similar levels of contamination exist at the French Gulch site, where the Forest Service and EPA want to consolidate and cap the waste. At a cost of about $1.8 million, the project should improve environmental conditions at both locations, according to Steve Way, the EPA’s on-scene cleanup coordinator. County environmental planner Brian Lorch also said the plan makes sense.
“We should be re-framing this as an opportunity,” Lorch said at a Breckenridge Town Council work session last week. “The federal government gave us the opportunity to clean up two properties at once,” said Lorch, who has plenty of experience working on mine waste remediation plans for the county’s open space department. “The EPA has very graciously said it will help us,” he added.”The question is, at what cost?” replied Breckenridge Town Councilmember Dave Rossi, who also lives in the Wellington Neighborhood.Low-ball cleanups?McAllister said the trend for EPA cleanups in recent years has been to get the job done as cheaply as possible.”There’s a push to get these things off the EPA’s plate. The quality of cleanups is going down,” McAllister said. The attitude is to do the easiest, not necessarily the best thing, he said, pointing a finger at the Bush administration.
“The political appointees of Region 8 have no credibility,” McAllister said. “It’s all about saving money and getting it done quick. “Residents should be given the resources to employ a consultant and take their own look,” he continued. Then, based on the best available information, the community should consider a comprehensive cleanup of mine waste in the area, using a state-of-the-art, lined repository with a drainage system to control potential seepage, McAllister said. Some of the discomfort about the plan was compounded by conflicting information, said Rossi. At first, the EPA and town planners said any seepage from the repository would be captured and treated by the planned French Gulch water treatment facility.But at the most recent council work session, Lorch explained that the water treatment plant is not designed for that purpose. It will treat water from a specific point source and is designed primarily to remove zinc, which doesn’t pose a human health risk but impacts French Gulch water quality, he explained.But despite the questions, EPA officials are confident the plan will benefit both locations. Consolidating and containing the impacts from mine waste has been used with success in other locations, and will improve the environment in the French Creek area, Way said during the town council work session last week.”The EPA’s interest is in addressing the human health risk,” Way said.
Attend the open houseOfficials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Forest Service and town of Breckenridge will be on hand Tuesday, April 17, to answer questions regarding the Claimjumper cleanup effort.Staff members from EPA, Forest Service and the town will answer questions, hear concerns and receive public comment related to the project and its varying components. The open house is scheduled between 3 and 6:30 p.m. in the multipurpose room of the Breckenridge Recreation Center located at 857 Airport Road.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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