‘Mistrust’ of feds drives mine waste talks
BRECKENRIDGE – As hard as they try, federal officials just can’t seem to completely dispel concerns that a proposed mine waste cleanup is primarily intended to set up a lucrative land trade.”I think what really came out is that there’s a general mistrust of the federal government,” said Breckenridge town manager Tim Gagen, referring to a May 2 informational meeting on the plan to move about 6,000 to 8,000 cubic yards of toxic mine waste from the 35-acre national forest Claimjumper parcel to a storage site near the Wellington Neighborhood in French Gulch. Gagen said about 30 citizens attended the session at the rec center.Concentrations of arsenic and especially lead are so high in the Claimjumper rocks that the EPA has targeted the area for cleanup at the earliest possible date, citing a potential health risk with prolonged exposure to the materials.The EPA and Forest Service have consistently touted the plan as a win-win that will improve conditions in both areas. Moving the waste from the Claimjumper parcel will remove the immediate exposure hazard at that location. And by capping the polluted rocks with clean earth, it won’t pose any risk to human health or to water quality in the proposed French Gulch repository, the feds say.But residents of French Gulch and other citizens have been equally adamant about questioning the timing of the cleanup, as well as whether it’s fair that taxpayers foot the bill for $1.9 million project, only to see the land be subsequently traded away.If the cleanup is done in time, the Forest Service may include the Claimjumper parcel in an upcoming Snake River land swap, centering around Keystone developer Gary Miller’s intent to trade a a private inholding along Peru Creek for a prime slope-side piece of land at Keystone.The Claimjumper land is not a direct piece of the trade, but could be one of the chips involved, as the Forest Service must come close to finding equal value in their trades.Another issue that was discussed at the Breckenridge open house relates to the long-term maintenance of the proposed mine waste storage site in French Gulch, said open space planner Scott Reid.Based the most recent discussions, the EPA and Forest Service would be in charge for a short-term warranty period; then the town and country would take over long-term responsibility for monitoring and managing the site. Those responsibilities are already outlined in existing formal agreements, Reid said, adding that the town and county would not be taking on any new liabilities or responsibilities.The Claimjumper cleanup will be in the Breckenridge Town Council Agenda again May 8, first at an afternoon work session when a consultant will report on his review of the EPA’s data on the cleanup. A hearing with public comment is scheduled for the regular town council meeting later that same evening.The stakeholders in the cleanup proposal don’t have a drop-dead date for making a decision, but Gagen said the EPA needs to know within about 30 days whether or not to proceed if the agency is to do the work this summer.Bob Berwyn can be reached (970) 331-5996, or at email@example.com.
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