House panel backs Leadville mine bill |

House panel backs Leadville mine bill

DENVER, Colorado ” A bill aimed at speeding up repairs to the Leadville mine drainage tunnel is moving ahead in Congress.

A House committee Wednesday unanimously backed the bill sponsored by U.S. Reps. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., and Mark Udall, D-Colo. It would give the Bureau of Reclamation responsibility for much of project and require that the agency maintain the collapsed tunnel.

The tunnel drains water from hundreds of abandoned mine shafts and a collapse detected 13 years ago has caused up to 1 billion gallons of contaminated water to back up inside the shafts.

Officials in Lake County have been nervously monitoring the situation for the last two years. Earlier this year, they declared a state of emergency because of fear that this year’s snowmelt could cause a catastrophic blowout of water.

The bill will next be debated on the House floor.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been working to dig a relief well to start removing the contaminated water from the tunnel. Lamborn and Udall said their bill is needed to clarify that it will be the Bureau of Reclamation’s responsibility to treat that water and maintain the tunnel from now on.

The area above the tunnel is a Superfund site under the supervision of the EPA. The Bureau of Reclamation has owned the tunnel since 1959.

Udall said the bureau has been unwilling to step up to the job. Lamborn said the EPA has been more receptive but the bureau “seems to be dragging its heels”.

If the bill passes, the bill would have to be reconciled with a Senate version that sets aside $40 million for the work. The House bill doesn’t have any funding tied to it.

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