The Eagle Mine site isn’t ready to develop, despite a recent EPA decision | VailDaily.com

The Eagle Mine site isn’t ready to develop, despite a recent EPA decision

This trestle is part of an elaborate system to carry contaminated water from the more than 70 miles of tunnels at the Eagle Mine to a treatment plant at Maloit Park near Minturn.

MINTURN — The Environmental Protection Agency recently released a "Superfund Redevelopment Focus List" that included the Eagle Mine just upstream from the town of Minturn.

The list, at least for Minturn, isn't as eyebrow-raising as it might seem.

The list details projects currently under the federal supervision for various kinds of environmental contamination. At the Eagle Mine, that contamination comes from water seeping out of the more than 70 miles of tunnels beneath Battle Mountain. That contaminated water once made the Eagle River Run orange. Contaminated water will forever be pulled out of the mine tunnels and treated at a site near the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy just south of Minturn.

While the EPA lists the entire mine site as a candidate for redevelopment, the primary focus is on property closest to Minturn. That property, known as Maloit Park and Rex Flats, is owned by the Battle Mountain Resort Company, what's left of a once-ambitious plan to turn Battle Mountain into a private ski resort with golf and housing close to the valley floor.

That proposal — approved by Minturn voters in a 2008 special election — went away with the national economic slump that hit full-force that year.

Since then, ideas for the property have gotten more modest.

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Valley floor only

The current idea — which has yet to become a formal land-use proposal to the town, calls for homes on the valley floor. The top of Battle Mountain is for sale.

The cleanup of some of the valley floor property continues. Eagle Valley Watershed Council Executive Director Holly Loff said the estimated cost of the valley-floor cleanup is about $4 million, to cover contaminated soil.

Loff said building on the site would require a soil barrier. Building on the site would require prohibitions against digging more than a couple of feet deep.

If an owner wanted to develop near the old mining town of Gilman, the cleanup would be far more expensive.

Minturn Mayor Matt Scherr said the original plan by Florida-based developer Bobby Ginn called for a hotel on the Gilman site. That hotel was to be built in the project's later stages, given the cost of the cleanup, building on a very steep site and the fact that dozens of miles of tunnels are beneath the surface.

Building anything there, ever, will be difficult, Scherr said.

Back on the valley floor, there are other impediments to development at Maloit Park and Rex Flats.

The biggest challenge is water. Specifically, building a number of homes will require more water supply for the town.

The drawing-board plan is to expand nearby Bolts Lake to roughly 1,200 acre-feet, bigger than Avon's Nottingham Lake.

Scherr said expanding Bolts Lake is something a lot of people and organizations want to see.

How to fill it?

But expanding Bolts Lake is one thing, filling it is another.

Minturn and any developer could partner with the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District to pump water upstream to fill the late. That's an expensive proposition.

The ideal way to fill Bolts Lake would be to use existing water rights on the Bolts Ditch. It should be easy. The ditch is there and the water rights are available.

But to move the water, a diversion gate has to be re-built. That gate, though, is on a small portion of the ditch that crosses the Eagles Nest Wilderness. Federal law prohibits building — or rebuilding — any structure in a wilderness area.

Scherr said that the local office of the U.S. Forest Service in about 2006 gave the town permission to rebuild the gate. People hand-hauled equipment and material to the site and rebuilt the structure from wood.

But, Scherr said, local officials don't have the authority to override wilderness regulations. That meant a crew had to hike back in and tear out what had been built.

More than three years ago, Rep. Jared Polis, whose Second Congressional District includes Minturn, introduced legislation to allow the town to rebuild the diversion gate.

It's not a controversial proposal. "Most of what Congress does is uncontroversial," Scherr said. "It should have taken six months."

But the legislation still hasn't moved, for reasons known only to those in the nation's capitol.

"I still think this will get done before we need it," Scherr said. "This is essential for Minturn to control its future — it's important for the whole valley community."

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com or @scottnmiller.

Four facts

• Mining at the Eagle Mine was conducted between about 1880 and 1984.

• Gold, silver, copper and zinc were pulled from the mine.

• More than 70 miles of tunnels are beneath the mountain.

• The responsible party for the continuing cleanup of the mine works is CBS. It’s complicated.

Source: Environmental Protection Agency.