EPA hears comments about a proposed repository for mine waste near Silverton, Colorado

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times

AZTEC — A repository for mine waste is needed in Colorado's Bonita Peak Mining District and the impoundments at Mayflower Mill could be a good location, according to comments the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency received during a virtual meeting on Aug. 11 regarding the proposed depository.

But members of the public also thought the EPA should take steps to mitigate impacts to tourism and recreation and to prevent possible failures that would contaminate the Animas River watershed.

Participants said they were concerned that operations could impact tours of the Mayflower Mill and noise could disturb recreation in a nearby non-motorized area used by hikers who enjoy quiet spaces. Some Silverton, Colorado, residents also expressed concern about possible impacts to drinking water or potential contamination to the river. 

The Gold King Mine spill of 2015 brought the possibility of mine waste entering the river system into an international spotlight as heavy metal-laden water filled Cement Creek and stained the Animas River a mustard yellow.

MORE:EPA seeks comment on proposed repository for mine waste in SW Colorado

The water from inside the mine, which contains high levels of heavy metals, continues to spill out of the mine. That water is directed into an interim treatment facility at Gladstone, Colorado. But the EPA needs a permanent place to put the sludge removed from the water during the treatment process. And the Gold King is only one of dozens of mines in the district that need attention.

The Bonita Peak Mining District consists of 48 mines located in the Mineral Creek, Cement Creek and Upper Animas River drainages in San Juan County, Colorado. And the Gold King is not the only one that has been leaking. Last year, the Silver Wing Mine released waste into the Animas River watershed.

MORE:EPA: Silver Wing Mine no longer discharging more heavy metal laden water

Environmental Restoration LLC employees, work, Monday, Aug. 10, 2015, at a temporary water treatment holding facility at the Gold King Mine north of Silverton, Colorado.

EPA Project Manager Robert Parker presented the details about the proposed repository during the Aug. 11 meeting.

Parker said the Mayflower site is ideal because of its high and dry location. It is also centrally located in the district and has previous contamination.

The total project cost is more than $17 million but it will be completed in phases. 

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There are four impoundments at the Mayflower site and three of those impoundments are proposed for use. The site could serve as a repository for more than a century.

Pete McKay, San Juan County commissioner in Colorado, looks at the site where the Gold King Mine breach occurred Monday, Aug. 10, 2015, north of Silverton, Colorado.

Parker said the operations will primarily take place in the summer and fall.

“It’s not going to be a year-round operation,” he said.

During the winter, temporary covers will be used to prevent the repository from filling up with precipitation.

Comments are still being accepted on the plan through Aug. 27. More information about the proposed repository can be found at epa.gov/superfund/bonita-peak.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.