EPA grant will help fund mine cleanup
SUMMIT COUNTY – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded the county $195,000 to help fund clean-up work at the abandoned Shoe Basin mine site, high in the Peru Creek drainage. The cleanup is a long-awaited step toward addressing aquatic life being killed by heavy metals in the Snake River, of which Peru Creek is a tributary.”It’s significant for Summit County because it’s money for on-the-ground water quality remediation in the Peru Creek Basin,” said Todd Robertson, Summit County Open Space Program director. With money at hand, the county can begin planning the technical aspects of the cleanup, and officials are hopeful the work can be done next summer.The grant, announced on June 15, is part of record-setting $75 million awarded to communities around the country under the EPA’s “brownfields” program. The goal is to turn former industrial and commercial sites from problem properties to productive community use, according to the EPA.The acidic brew draining from abandoned mines around Peru Creek contributes to high concentrations of toxic heavy metals in the water. Downstream, entire segments of the greater Snake River Basin have been designated as impaired because the water is poisonous to aquatic life. The ambitious long-term goal is to restore a self-sustaining fishery in parts of the scenic and recreation-rich Snake River valley.Keystone Resort has also wrestled with Snake River water quality issues. The ski area draws water from the Snake River for snowmaking.Potential impacts to nearby untainted drainages have been an issue in recent snowmaking proposals. The resort is represented on the Snake River Task Force, a wide-ranging group of private and government stakeholders eyeing a wider cleanup of the Snake River.Under a previous EPA grant, county officials worked with consultants and agencies like the EPA and the U.S. Forest Service to identify the Shoe Basin site as one of five priority targets for remediation, following an assessment of more than 250 mines sites in the area. The results of a 2002 study suggested that water running over the mine dump at the Shoe Basin site may be adding as much as five pounds of metal – mainly zinc – per day to the stream. Zinc is toxic to some trout species, even in tiny amounts.Brian Lorch, a resource expert with the Open Space Program, said it’s impossible to quantify what direct effect the Shoe Basin project might have on overall water quality in the Snake River Basin.But the hope is that, if one project can be completed successfully, others may follow. Other sites considered for cleanup include the Pennsylvania Mine which, by some estimates, is responsible for the majority of the heavy metal pollution in the drainage.The basic plan for the Shoe Basin site is to consolidate material from the mine dump, move it upslope away from the water, and then cap it and revegetate the area, said Mark Arnold, president of American Geological Services, a company that is working with the county to design the cleanup operation. Additionally, the water running down from above the mine could be diverted away from the mineralized rocks, he said. “This is pretty standard,” said Lorch. “It’s the first thing you do at any mine cleanup, or with a new mine to keep the clean water clean,” Lorch said.Where the work is plannedThe property where the work is planned is an old mining claim, acquired by the county through tax default. And that leaves a loophole for remediation in an otherwise dense web of federal liability rules, Robertson explained, that have hindered other cleanup efforts in Summit County and around the West.The Shoe Basin project will also wrap up an agreement between Summit County, the Colorado Water Quality Control Division and Arapahoe Basin owner Dundee Realty USA, Robertson said. As part of the approval process for snowmaking at A-Basin, Dundee agreed to help fund a water quality improvement project to try and mitigate impacts its diversions of clean North Fork water, which helps dilute metals pollution downstream. A-Basin’s diversions reduces the quantity of clean water available for dilution during snowmaking season, slightly increasing metals concentrating downstream, according to a Forest Service study.While under no obligation, the county voluntarily became involved and offered to take the lead on the technical side of the remediation effort. Future Forest Service landThe property in question could be conveyed to the Forest Service sometime in the future as part of a land trade, said Pat Willits, executive director of the Ridgeway-based Trust for Land Restoration (TLR).”We worked with the Forest Service to see which parcels could be traded and we started to focus on this Upper Transpacific claim (the Shoe Basin Mine site) because it seemed important enough for the Forest Service to acquire it,” Willits said. Eventually, the site could serve as a trailhead for the Continental Divide Trail. As well, the White River forest plan calls for motorized use to end, making it a strategic parcel for the agency. Willits said his nonprofit organization brokers cleanup agreements, helping the various entities involved to manage and overcome liability issues. “Summit County is among the most progressive in dealing with cleaning up the mess that other people left,” he said.
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