EPA chief Pruitt to visit Superfund site
Visit comes one day before the two-year anniversary of the Gold King Mine spill

EPA chief Pruitt to visit Superfund site

The Animas River through Durango a day after the Gold King mine spill in 2015.

Tracy Chamberlin - 08/02/2017

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is planning to visit the area this Friday to tour the Bonita Peak Superfund site near Silverton.

“We’re honored that he would come and take note, and inform himself of the acid mine waste in the Animas watershed,” Durango City Councilor Dean Brookie said.

Pruitt’s visit comes just one day before the two-year anniversary of the Gold King Mine spill, which sent more than 3 million gallons of toxic mine wastewater down Cement Creek and into the Animas River on Aug. 5, 2015.

For decades, area residents have struggled with how to deal with the hundreds of abandoned draining mines in the Animas watershed. Becoming a Superfund site was something the community had debated for years. Following the spill, which was accidentally triggered by an EPA contractor, public sentiment turned toward asking for federal help. The Bonita Peak Superfund site was officially designated last September.

Brookie said this visit is a big deal for the community, adding there hasn’t been a visit like this since the Gold King Mine spill occurred.

According to Brookie, no public meeting is scheduled. Pruitt will, however, is expected to meet with local leaders, including tribal officials.

“It’s something we’ve been hoping he’d do,” San Juan County Administrator Willie Tookey said.

Local officials have also reached out to Colorado’s congressional delegation, including Rep. Scott Tipton and Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet. However, it’s unclear who, if any, would be able to attend since Congress is still in session. Although, many local leaders are hopeful the visit will playout as planned, they are also cautious not to count their chickens.

As for Pruitt’s itinerary, EPA officials responded by saying they “were unable to comment on the administrator’s schedule.”

Brookie, along with Ty Churchwell, the San Juan Mountains Coordinator for Trout Unlimited, La Plata County Commissioner Brad Blake and San Juan County Commissioner Scott Fetchenhier, made their way to Washington, D.C., this past June to meet with EPA officials and Colorado’s congressional delegation.

They went with the goal of highlighting the area’s struggle to deal with the mine waste at a time when the president has proposed to cut the Superfund budget by 25 percent.

It was their intention to meet with Pruitt, but he was out of town at the time. Instead, they met with the EPA’s top brass, including those in charge of mine cleanup across the nation.

During the meeting, they asked about having Pruitt make the trip to the Southwest because hearing or reading about the mine waste is very different from seeing it firsthand. “We were excited he’s responded to our request,” Brookie said.

Pruitt has said in the past he planned on making Superfund cleanups a priority at the EPA. In fact, he created a Superfund Task Force in May to make recommendations on expediting cleanup and remediation efforts, among other things. The Task Force recently released its recommendations, and among those suggestions was the establishment of a Top 10 Administrator’s Emphasis List.

“Hopefully, he will view the good work the EPA has actually initiated as a result of the Superfund designation … and continue to prioritize this particular Superfund,” Brookie said.