Mine waste in your back yard?
BRECKENRIDGE – Not all Wellington neighborhood residents are thrilled about an Environmental Protection Agency plan to shuffle mine waste from the Forest Service-owned Claimjumper parcel to a storage site near their homes in French Gulch.”It’s a very concerning thing to hear,” said Brandon Head, who lives within spitting distance of the route trucks would use to deliver some 6,000 to 10,000 tons of rock containing elevated levels of zinc, cadmium, lead and arsenic. Concentrations of cadmium and zinc are not so high as to pose a direct threat to human health, yet they are toxic to aquatic life even in relatively low levels. But the concentrations of lead in the Claimjumper rock are well above levels that trigger EPA cleanups.”I’m not really happy. I’m irritated that the first I heard of it was in an e-mail from Dave (Rossi),” said Sharyn Steiner, another neighborhood resident.Without full disclosure and buy-in from residents, the plan could represent a step away from the community values embodied in the Wellington neighborhood, Head said.Based on decades of experience at other sites, the EPA recommends consolidating the mine waste at a site where it can be capped with clean earth and monitored. The Wellington-Oro site makes sense because it’s upstream of a planned water treatment plant designed specifically to remove zinc, said the EPA environmental engineer Victor Ketellapper, who described the proposal as a way to come up with a community plan to manage the mine waste from various sites.
Go slowSeveral Breckenridge Town Council members advocated for a go-slow approach at a work session Tuesday evening, calling for more transparency and public involvement, especially for Wellington residents.
Moving the tainted waste rock is part of a complex agreement framing the joint town and county open space acquisition of the B&B properties in the Golden Horseshoe. Breckenridge assumed an obligation to “take appropriate measures and exercise due care,” in managing piles of waste rock from abandoned mines in the area.”That doesn’t mean just leave it alone,” open space planner Scott Reid said as he outlined the plan for the council.Right now, there are about 100,000 cubic yards of waste rock at the Wellington-Oro repository. The EPA plan would add about 6,000 to 10,000 cubic yards of additional material from the Claimjumper parcel, a piece of National Forest land near the Claimjumper Condos.The Forest Service wants to include the Claimjumper parcel in the upcoming Snake River land exchange, a swap being driven by developer Gary Miller’s desire to trade the Chihuahua town site near Peru Creek for some national forest land at the base of Keystone Ski Area.
The Claimjumper parcel was twice before targeted for exchange, but the polluted waste rock has long been a stumbling block, said Forest Service lands specialist Paul Semmer.High lead levels”We wouldn’t be doing a cleanup if we didn’t think it posed a risk,” said EPA on-site cleanup coordinator Steve Way. There are five or six waste rock piles with significant concentrations of lead, as well as arsenic, on the Claimjumper parcel, Way said. Concentrations of lead range range from 8,000 parts per million (ppm) to as high as 15,000 ppm, well above the 1,000 ppm threshold that triggers cleanups, he explained.
“Those are pretty high numbers for lead. When we see numbers like this, we’re pretty certain we need to do something, especially when it’s right next to a residential area,” Way said. “Most toxicologists agree that those numbers are significant enough that you could see elevated levels of lead in the blood with chronic exposure,” he continued. Way said the proposed cleanup is a no-brainer for the EPA, based on similar work done at other sites. He pointed out that lead levels on some of the land at the Wellington-Oro respository has equally high lead levels. Moving the waste rock from the Claimjumper and capping at the French Gulch site is a sensible and cost-effective way to address both areas at once, he said.”I really believe it’s the best solution for all concerned,” he said.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at email@example.com.
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