Gilman cleanup called simple but lengthy
GILMAN – The valley’s most visible abandoned mining town was unlikely to get cleaned up until a developer stepped in with dreams of building a private ski resort nearby. Bobby Ginn, who once called Gilman “an environmental black eye,” plans 150 homes at the ghost town. Experts say the cleanup he’s agreed to isn’t complex, but could take a lot of time and money because of the amount of contaminated soil and waste rock that must be removed or covered. “To us it’s additional cleanup we would not have gotten otherwise,” said Wendy Naugle, who manages Gilman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.Ginn plans to build a private ski resort, golf course and 1,700 homes on 5,400 acres of land on and around Battle Mountain that include Gilman. Ginn is currently asking Minturn to annex 4,300 acres of the land.Portions of the land Ginn hopes to develop are a classified Superfund site under a government program to locate, investigate and clean up the worst hazardous waste sites, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Gilman – located alongside Highway 24 between Minturn and Red Cliff – is part of the Superfund. Ginn is adamant about cleaning the ghost town and is doing so voluntarily, company spokesman Cliff Thompson said.”Why would we want to leave a Superfund site up there if we’re going to develop it,” Thompson said.
Heavy metalTwo sources of contamination exist on the property – scattered waste rock dug out of the mine and soil contaminated with heavy metals.Several piles of waste rock litter Gilman, most notably a pile containing pyrite beside the mine shaft on the north end of the abandoned town. An acidic solution forms when pyrite reacts with water and oxygen. The solution then pulls metals such as zinc out of the surrounding rock.If that zinc-tainted water were to flow into the Eagle River, it could harm fish and bugs, Naugle said. Currently the contaminated water is collected with other water from the mine and cleaned before it reaches the river, Naugle said.A 1993 department of health study found Gilman’s soil contained elevated levels of cadmium, chromium, manganese, lead and arsenic compared to samples taken just outside the Superfund site.Lead, arsenic, and cadmium are often found at elevated concentrations in the environment near mining and smelting sites, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.All the metals found at Gilman can have harmful health effects in humans if ingested. For example, arsenic ingested through food, water or the air can cause everything from a sore throat to death, according to the agency.
Chronic exposure – over the course of a lifetime – poses a concern for human health, said Ken Waesche, a consultant for Environmental Resource Management in Denver. The firm is employed by Ginn for environmental consulting at Gilman and Bolts Lake.”The soil will be removed or covered somehow to insure (the metals) are not breathed in or ingested,” Waesche said.Covered contamination?Gilman currently poses little harm to humans, because trespassers usually are the only people entering the town. The state and EPA require that Ginn study the risk contamination poses for people living at the site. The study results, and where Ginn develops at Gilman, will determine how the site will be cleaned, officials said.Currently, Ginn is sampling air and soil conditions for the cleanup of Bolts Lake. The results will also help determine how Gilman is cleaned, Naugle said.To clean Gilman, soil and waste rock can be removed or covered, Naugle and Waesche said.”From a difficulty standpoint it isn’t that difficult,” Waesche said. “It will require a lot of time and earth moving but it isn’t that difficult compared to other sites in the state.”
Some sites include Leadville, which sat on a larger mining operation than the one below Gilman, Waesche said.”When it’s done most people won’t know there was ever a problem (at Gilman),” Waesche said.If the contaminated soil and rock were covered, state law prevents a developer from digging into the soil for basements, wells or other underground structures, Naugle said.Naugle said she prefers removal of the polluted soil rather than covering it. “It makes it easier for them to manage the property afterwards if they don’t have those restrictions,” Naugle said.Naugle couldn’t say how much cleanup might cost.”It will be a lot,” Thompson said.Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14622, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado