Leadville: Pumping to begin in three months
Vail CO, Colorado
LEADVILLE, Colorado ” Lake County Commissioner Mike Hickman began a Feb. 21 meeting with an emphatic call to action, going so far as to refer to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Bureau of Reclamation and the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE) as “The Three Stooges.”
But representatives from the agencies continued to methodically outline solutions and warn that implementation may take time. Some of the only new information came from John Kainrad, the head of disaster assistance at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), who warned that the City of Leadville is not a participant in its National Flood Insurance Program ” making its citizens ineligible for FEMA’s flood insurance.
Asked if the meeting had accomplished anything, Commissioner Carl Schaefer said “well, not as much as we’d hoped. Though the EPA seems to be ready to implement solutions, he said, Reclamation once again “got off the hook.”
“We didn’t get the support from Sen. Allard that we’d hoped to get,” he added. Sen. Allard, who had several overlapping commitments, was largely absent from the meeting.
This meeting, organized by State Senator Tom Wiens and Senator Wayne Allard, was one of several stakeholder meetings that have been held since the Lake County Commissioners declared a State of Emergency in Lake County on Feb. 13.
The commissioners were worried that rising groundwater on the east side of Leadville indicated water was building up behind a collapse in the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel. A tunnel blowout could have catastrophic effects for the community directly below and the entire Arkansas River Basin, say commissioners.
According to FEMA’s external affairs specialist Jerry DeFelice, few private companies issue flood insurance anymore, because the losses can be so significant. FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program has largely replaced private flood insurance, he explains.
Lake County does participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, so citizens who live outside the city limits can purchase NFIP insurance. However, Lake County residents who live within the city limits of Leadville cannot.
At the Feb. 21 meeting, Kainrad said that there is an emergency application process by which Leadville could join the program. He would be happy to help the Leadville city government apply, he said.
Leadville Mayor Bud Elliott has said he intends to work with FEMA to complete the emergency application.
Environmental Protection Agency region eight administrator Robert Robert defined himself at the meeting as “they guy who wrote the letter that started all of this.” He went on to reiterate the EPA’s commitment to two solutions: pumping the Gaw and pumping water from behind the blockage.
Cautioning that pumping the Gaw may or may not affect the backup of water in the tunnel, Robert gave a firm deadline on the Gaw Shaft for the first time: Wednesday, Feb. 27.
He also said it would take 12 weeks to begin dewatering the mine pool behind the blockage; the EPA would need six weeks to mobilize and six weeks to construct the larger shaft, pump and conveyance system, he said. He anticipated a cost of 1.5 million, and promised that the funding is already in place.
However, he cautioned that a permanent fix also involves building an engineered plug.
In 2003, the EPA estimated the cost of a plug, pump and conveyance system would be four to four and a half million; today, it would likely cost around six million, said Robert.
Pointedly noting that he was once stationed out of Twin Lakes, Great Plains regional director Mike Ryan spoke for the Bureau of Reclamation.
“Your public safety is a very important thing and we need to get going on getting some solutions in place,” said Ryan, who approved of the commissioner’s fourfold suggestion to pump the Gaw Shaft, pump the Canterbury Tunnel, pump the LMDT and flume the Canterbury Tunnel.
He also thought that the LMDT Treatment Plant might be able to process more water than the 900 gallons per minute to which Reclamation had previously committed ” if they could “feather back” the inputs from their existing pump in order to receive more water from the new pump.
At the end of the meeting, he promised to look into whether or not Reclamation would need to expand its plant in order to process more water ” and to estimate what the cost of that expansion might be.
Ryan said he had read media reports about Tuesday’s meetings and wanted citizens to understand that the federal agencies were moving forward on a plan.
“It made me feel very bad to see the anxiety that those folks have,” he said.
Of the four solutions proposed by the Lake County Commissioners, two still have no timeline or sponsoring agency: pumping the Canterbury Tunnel and fluming Evans Gulch. Both solutions would prevent clean water from entering the mine pool.
Ryan did say that Reclamation might be able to pump the Canterbury Tunnel ” an important statement, since Reclamation officials has thus far been unwilling to commit to reducing water going into the underground reservoir. However, he made no promises.
No plans were made to consider the feasibility of building flumes in Evans Gulch.
At one point, Commissioner Olsen turned to Sen. Allard, to request funding for those two fixes. Sen. Allard told Lake County that they could submit a formal request for funding, but that they would likely be better served by working through the federal agencies.
Asking for money for a specific project in a specific area is clearly an earmark, said Sen. Allard. He was worried that commissioners’ funding request could be denied if Congress decides not to pass earmarks this year.
Throughout the meeting, commissioner Hickman and Olsen pushed the government agencies to work harder and faster ” and to care more.
“I’m angry and I’m damn angry,” said Commissioner Hickman at the beginning of the meeting. “What do we have? We have people pointing in every which direction. I’m angry because the people of Leadville deserve more from our federal agencies and state agencies.”
“That’s the anger that we all feel,” said Commissioner Olsen.
But Robert pointed out that he was one of the first people to express serious concern about the matter.
And Ryan said he took exception to some of the characterization of Reclamation’s efforts ” but added that he wanted to move past such concerns.
“Taking exception doesn’t help folks,” he said.
Katie Redding is the reporter for The Leadville Chronicle. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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