Eagle Mine work continues
What is this? The Eagle Mine, between Minturn and Red Cliff.
What’s there? A federal “Superfund” mine cleanup.
What’s the system? A series of pumps and plumbing leads to a treatment plant at Maloit Park.
Does it work? The treatment plant every day pulls 251 pounds of metals from the contaminated mine water.
EAGLE COUNTY — Environmental cleanup work continues at the Eagle Mine. But that didn’t stop phone calls to the Eagle River Watershed Council after the Eagle River was mentioned in a news story on Saturday about the Environmental Protection Agency and old mining sites around the West.
That story, from the Associated Press, was titled “In wake of Colorado spill, EPA suspends work at 10 mining sites.” The story was written in the wake of an Aug. 5 accident at the Gold King mine in southwestern Colorado. That spill, caused by crews working for the EPA, released 3 million gallons of contaminated water in the Animas River, turning the stream yellow in parts of Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, as well as lands of the Southern Ute and Navajo tribes.
‘WHAT THEY DIDN’T REPORT’
The spill caused the federal agency to examine work it was doing elsewhere. That, in turn, led to the news story. That story was short on information about most projects, but particularly about the Eagle River. After mentioning the river, the story read, simply, “No further information was available.”
That single sentence led to a lot of phone calls regarding the mine to the watershed council and questions on the group’s Facebook page.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has fielded a number of calls about the mine, too.
“What we told the (Associated Press), and what they didn’t report, is that it’s business as usual at the Eagle Mine — there’s been no stoppage there,” Warren Smith of the Colorado Public Health and Environment said.
So what happened?
A Thursday statement from the EPA’s national press office read:
“The Eagle River site mentioned in The Washington Post article is an abandoned mine near the Eagle River and not within the boundary of the Eagle Mine National Priorities List site. It is a site that EPA has not yet fully assessed. On-scene coordinators from our Region 8 office in Denver have been conducting the assessments and no work has been initiated.”
Kate Burchenal, the education and outreach coordinator for the watershed council, said that project is complete right now, which is why work has stopped.
Meanwhile, constant work continues to drain and treat contaminated water from the vast network of tunnels and caverns inside the Eagle Mine site. The mine works flooded in the 1980s, and seepage turned the Eagle River a rusty-antifreeze orange in the winter of 1989-90. The current treatment facilities, all built in the 1990s, run constantly and will into the foreseeable future. That work is being paid for by CBS, which the EPA has identified as the “responsible party” for the cleanup. The media company acquired the mine over years of mergers and acquisitions of other companies. The mine was once owned by Gulf + Western.
Today, the mine cleanup pumps a maximum of 250 gallons per minute from the flooded mine works. About 250 pounds per day of heavy metals is removed from that water, which is then put into the river.
Burchenal said while the Gold King spill has focused public attention on old mines, the situation there is very different from the one at the Eagle Mine.
“The Gold King had a dam that failed,” Burchenal said. “The Eagle Mine has a pool, and if we’re not pulling water out of it at a certain rate, it will spill.”
A small handful of spills have taken place over the past few years, but none has approached the size of the original spill, or that seen along the Animas River.
That’s why the work continues.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com and @scottnmiller.