Mine cleanup bill delayed until next year
BRECKENRIDGE – A bill proposed by U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, D.-Colo. to clean up abandoned mines throughout the state likely will be delayed until next year due to a full calendar and a looming legislative recess.”This bill has gotten very good play with the Republicans and the Democrats, environmentalists and folks in the industry,” said Alan Salazar, chief of staff for Udall. “(But) the calendar is so crammed with other things, I don’t think we’ll get a bite of this before the end of the year.”In addition, proponents would like to find a Senate sponsor of the bill.The bill is of local importance because funds could help clean up mines in Summit County. It’s relevant, too, because redistricting means Summit County will be included in Congressional District 2 – Udall’s district.Udall visited Summit County this spring and said during a tour he was amazed to see the extent of mining damage to the backcountry northeast of Breckenridge. He said he was equally impressed with the grassroots effort taking place to obtain the land and clean it up.Udall drafted legislation in March to amend the Clean Water Act to protect so-called Good Samaritans from litigation they legally inherit when they try to clean up contaminated mine sites.”Several other legislators have introduced Good Samaritan bills in the past and they haven’t gone anywhere,” said County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom. “Case law says if you clean it up, you buy it. It becomes your responsibility.”The Environmental Protection Agency, one of about a half-dozen entities working together to clean up mines in French Gulch, has absolved the local group from liability in their clean-up measures. But that could change, Lindstrom said, depending on who is sitting in the EPA director’s seat.Udall’s bill, HR 4078 – The Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act of 2002 – would eliminate the bulk of the liability associated with cleaning up contaminated sites. Breckenridge and Summit County are addressing such concerns as they work to evaluate the B&B Mines parcel they hope to buy and restore as a backcountry recreational area.”I think such protection would encourage more efforts to resolve problems like those at the Pennsylvania Mine near Keystone, where each minute, this mine releases between 30 and 200 gallons of orange-tinted, highly acidic water into Peru Creek,” Udall said.”Volunteers abandoned their efforts to clean up the mine when a judge ruled that Good Samaritans could be held liable under the Clean Water Act for creating a point-source discharge. Their efforts were frustrated by the very laws that are designed to stem this type of pollution.”Cleanup doesn’t come easily, either.The French Creek Remediation Group (FROG) – a consortium of residents, county, town, state and federal officials – has made progress cleaning up the Wellington-Oro mine in French Gulch. Numerous studies have been conducted to determine why and how the water flowing out of the creek and into the Blue River gets contaminated, where the river is running under tons of dredge rocks, and what can be done to mitigate the flow of toxic, heavy metals into the river.Some surface contamination has been buried or disposed of to prevent aerial contamination, and efforts are under way to address the water issues.Now, the group is trying to determine the best way to alleviate contamination in the water. The most viable option so far could be to erect a sedimentation pond wherein material that causes the heavy metals to fall from the water would be injected into the creek. The ensuing sludge then would be hauled to the landfill.Breckenridge and county officials are in the midst of acquiring 1,800 acres of land in the Golden Horseshoe, which wraps around in a horseshoe shape from the Swan River Valley to French Gulch. Before they will close on the sale, however, they want to make sure they are aware of all potential mines, mills and other sources of contamination and determine how much it will cost to clean them up.”We said in the beginning we wanted to do the cleanup so they (B&B Mine owners) can come out of it,” said Turk Montepare, who represents the town and county on open space purchases. “And everyone’s been involved: developers, off-road vehicle users, tree-huggers. It’s been a little bit of everyone.”Many municipalities are leery about getting involved in such an undertaking, primarily because of the potential liability involved.Under Udall’s proposal, local and state governments could clean up abandoned mine sites without assuming the entire liability. The local entities, however, would be responsible for any increase in pollution.The bill also establishes a fee that would be charged to existing hardrock mining companies to help pay for such cleanups. Small mines making less than $500,000 a year would be exempt.Jane Stebbins can be reached at 668-3998 ext. 228 or email@example.com.—Udall’s Bill, HR 4078The Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act of 2002 – would eliminate the bulk of the liability associated with cleaning up contaminated sites. It also would establish a fee that would be charged to existing hardrock mining companies to pay a fee to help pay for such cleanups. Small mines making less than $500,000 a year would be exempt.
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