Taking the cautious approach
By Mark Reaman
Remediation work resumed at the Standard Mine on Mt. Emmons west of Crested Butte last week after activity was suspended following the Gold King Mine accident near Silverton, Colorado. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken responsibility for the accident that spilled about three million gallons of contaminated water into Cement Creek from the Gold King and eventually tainted the Animas River that runs through Durango.
Shortly after the accident, the EPA suspended work at 27 mining projects across the country, including the Standard Mine. The idea was to have an independent contractor do a management review process at each site.
EPA Superfund project manager Christina Progess and EPA mining engineer Jim Hanley told the Crested Butte town council Tuesday evening that the review cleared the way to resume work at the Standard Mine at the end of last week. “We are grateful to be up and running again and we have two shifts back at work after the two-week suspension,” explained Progess.
“Lessons were learned from the Gold King incident,” added Hanley. “The bottom line was to have an emergency action plan and provide procedures for mine emergencies. That has been in place up here.”
Hanley said the remediation work is now behind schedule given the delay and weather will determine how fast some of the work gets done this fall. He said about 38 percent of the $2.3 million budget has been spent on the work. He also told the council that only about two feet of standing water is blocked in the mine.
“We are taking a cautious approach to have protection against a surge event which we think is highly unlikely,” he said. “To never be in a vulnerable position is the idea. We are taking a conservative approach to the project to protect the workers and the community.”
“We have plenty of capacity with our holding ponds if the 24,000 gallons of water we estimate is there would come out,” said Progess.
Hanley said there is also a concerted effort underway to inventory mines that might be leaking contaminated water into various drainages locally and across the west. “The idea is to get one list of historic drainage mines that put their watersheds at risk,” he said. “We are trying to get our arms around the issue and try to find funding to address it all over the west.”
“There is a collaborative effort with the state to look at mines up the Slate River and Oh Be Joyful for example,” explained Progess. “The Standard Mine is a priority because of the drinking water issue. We are glad to be back at work up there.”