Restrictions eased in mine clean ups
SUMMIT COUNTY – A new initiative announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Trout Unlimited could make it much easier to clean up abandoned mines sites in Colorado and around the West.The deal, which has been in the works for more than a year, will enable organizations to clean up mines without assuming certain responsibilities, such as strict water-quality standards, that have long stymied restoration efforts, said Chris Wood of Trout Unlimited, an environmental group. Strict legal requirements have prevented some community groups from attempting to block acid leaks at abandoned gold and silver mines. Laced with chemicals like zinc and cadmium, the pollution can become toxic and kill fish along with the bugs they eat. State and local agencies once tried to open an experimental treatment plant at the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine along Peru Creek near Keystone, but fears of burdensome legal requirements (among with other factors) halted the project. Under existing environmental regulations, groups cleaning up a mine are responsibility for meeting stringent water-quality standards. The new agreement should ease some of that burden, said Russ Schnitzer, Trout Unlimited’s director of abandoned mine programs.Acid leaks at old mines are widespread across the West, where a significant number of streams and rivers have been harmed by abandoned mines, the EPA says.The EPA-Trout Unlimited deal emerged during a clean-up effort at American Fork Creek in Utah. The deal lets Trout Unlimited clean mines that pose the greatest risk to fisheries and water quality in a two- to three-year project expected to cost about $300,000. “Acid mine drainage cleanup is a dirty, unpopular job, but someone needs to do it,” said Wood. “The American Fork will serve as a model that will spawn similar clean up efforts in communities across the West.”Schnitzer said Trout Unlimited hopes to use the same process to clean up the headwaters of the Arkansas River near Leadville. Such a project, he said, would be a major stepping stone toward a complete comeback for the Arkansas, whose headwaters were severely polluted by past mining activity around Leadville.Colorado lawmakers, including Eagle County Congressman Mark Udall, and most recently U.S. Senator Ken Salazar, have introduced measures that would also reduce the liability associated with voluntary cleanups, but none of those bills have made it very far in Congress.Vail, Colorado
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