The junk isn’t going anywhere |

The junk isn’t going anywhere

Nicole Frey
Bret Hartman/Vail DailyThe structures at the Eagle Mine in Belden stand in ruin and disrepair. The buildings were exempted from the mine's cleanup because it wasn't hazardous. Other parts of the mine were leaching toxic zinc into the Eagle River south of Minturn.

GILMAN – The smoke stacks at the Eagle Mine in Belden still reach up to meet Battle Mountain, but today, instead of the bustling mine of the 19th century, the place is silent. While some buildings still sit squarely on the land, others list dangerously. The aluminum sheets making up the walls are rusted, chipped and missing altogether in places. The windows are broken. The concrete is crumbling. And in the middle of it all, a small sign warns, “do not enter.”Piles of rusted rubbish old tires, barrels, sheets of metal and other unidentifiable objects are scattered around the structures. Separated by stacks of rusting piping, it sits in puddles colored orange by the iron in the water.

At its peak, the mine south of Minturn produced zinc. But after its close, pollutants in the mine leached into the Eagle River killing nearly all life in the water. Declared a superfund site, an environmental disaster, the Environmental Protection Agency stepped in forcing mine owner, Viacom, an international media conglomerate, to clean up the mess. Sixteen years and $80 million later, the project is hailed as a great success by the environmental agency. But if the cleanup was a success, why is there still so much junk around?”The buildings are old, but they’re not health risks,” said Caroline Bradford, the director of the Eagle River Watershed Council, an environmental organization that has fought to clean up contaminated portions of the river.

Wendy Naugle, an engineer and groundwater geologist with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said cleanup efforts pertained only to soil and water contaminated by the leached zinc. It also stipulated revegetation in areas where contaminated soils were scraped off the land.But because the buildings themselves weren’t contaminated, they were excluded from the cleanup. However, there was some zinc powder in and around the buildings that was removed. “There was concern they could be leached into the river so it was scraped off,” Naugle said. “But under superfund, (the buildings) weren’t removed because they’re not hazardous. They might be hazardous under buildings codes.”

Ray Merry, director of environmental health for Eagle County, said people certainly wouldn’t be permitted to live in the structures as they stand right now. But without residents, the dilapidated buildings aren’t breaking any laws.What the department of public health is requiring is security around the site to ensure people don’t trespass on the land.Together with Viacom, the Ginn Company, which has purchased land around the mine with plans to develop a private ski and golf course community, are supplying the security guards and locked gates in the area.

“The mine is out of sight, and we don’t see it, but it’s certainly not out of mind,” said Cliff Thompson, spokesman for the Ginn Company, which does not own the mine. “We have to prohibit public access to superfund sites.”Despite the precautions, mischief makers have found their ways in to scribble graffiti on the property and break windows. “What are you going to do?” Thompson said. “It’s like when you move into a neighborhood – you can’t control what your neighbor’s house looks like.”

Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or Vail, Colorado

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