Groups can strive for cleaner river
MINTURN ” Instead of being stuck with the water they’ve got, fish and bugs in the Eagle River will have the opportunity to live in a cleaner stream.
A judge’s ruling Monday give environmental groups and other agencies a chance to see just how clean they can make the stretch between Gilman and Minturn, which has been poisoned by toxic minerals leaking from the defunct Eagle Mine.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Rick Sackbauer, president of the board of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. “The river is going to be better for generations to come. It could have ended up a David and Goliath battle that David would never have won, but everything went like we had hoped. Now everything has a chance to get better.”
The ruling, which sets “temporary” pollution standards, gives the groups three years to see how low they can reduce the river’s level of zinc, the chief culprit. That level could then become a permanent standard or the groups could be allowed to try to lower the level farther.
In 1990, when the zinc levels in the river reached more than 36 times acceptable levels, the site was dubbed an environmental disaster by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Viacom International, a media conglomerate that had purchased a portion of the mine, was held responsible for the cleanup. For 10 years, the company toiled and poured millions into the project, which was hailed a grand success by environmentalists.
But zinc levels were still far from acceptable, said Caroline Bradford, executive director of the Eagle River Watershed Council.
“They stopped just short of being finished,” Bradford said.
It’s not just environmental groups like Bradford’s that want to try lower the level of zinc. The judge’s ruling was supported by Vail Resorts and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, among other agencies.
A recent Colorado Division of Wildlife study showed zinc was still harming life in the river, said Steve Bushong, an attorney who argued for the temporary standards.
Martha Rehm, attorney and senior vice president for Vail Associates, said the decision “allows time for more to be done to improve water quality in the Eagle River before permanent standard are put in place.”
Experts will continue to measure the number and health of the fish and bugs in the river for the next two years and encourage Viacom to continue its cleanup. The temporary standards will expire Jan. 1, 2009.
Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or email@example.com.