By Mark Reaman and Olivia Lueckemeyer
Improving on what was admittedly not a super-smooth process last fall when there was a minor spill at the old Standard Mine, representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency came before both the Crested Butte Town Council and Gunnison County commissioners this week to inform them of a new Emergency Action Plan (EAP) to be used this summer.
Last October an EPA contractor dewatering a sediment pond into Elk Creek spilled an estimated 2,000 gallons of water sediment into the creek. The material released contained a mixture of pH-neutral pulverized rock slurry and water from the mine. It happened to take place a few months after the major Gold King Mine spill into the Animas River near Silverton and so this incident garnered a lot of local and national attention.
EPA representatives Christina Progess and Jim Hanley said coordination and communication plans had been improved. Progess said it was clear that the notification process last fall did not go as quickly as anyone desired.
“We have been working with the town and the county to come up with an improved Emergency Action Plan,” Progess said. “The new plan details the ‘call-down tree’ in the event of a spill or any incident.”
“We have taken a group of experts and looked at different ‘failure modes’ and their consequences,” added Hanley. “We have tried to design early indicators that give us time to do early notification.”
Hanley said there would be “redundant” communications systems in place. Satellite phones, cell phones and radios will all be on hand to be used in case of an incident.
He said the plan is “all-encompassing but mostly environmental,” so it could be used in other emergency situations as well.
“We are definitely interested in using redundant communication systems,” said Progess. “We are confident we can reach who we need to reach off-site in short order. The goal is to make the EAP a comprehensive one.”
In response to a question from mayor Glenn Michel about citizen notification, Crested Butte public works director Rodney Due said, “While the plan is still in draft form, I feel we are getting it dialed in. Awareness is a lot greater now. I think we have covered all the bases really well. We will have a table-top exercise with everyone before they start construction up at the mine in early July.”
“It is important to get out information that is accurate,” said Michel.
“I think we are prepared,” responded Due.
“I hope we don’t need to use this but thanks for being prepared,” Michel told the EPA reps.
Hanley also admitted to the county commissioners that in the past he often kept notifications local and overlooked the capabilities of Gunnison County dispatch. He says he now understands the effectiveness of that system in reaching out to incident commanders or response services available within the county for improving a situation if one occurs, and he plans to utilize that service in the future.
“Even though I was aware of the long reach of the Gunnison dispatch, I didn’t take advantage of that communication,” Hanley said. “We will take better advantage of that service in the future to help us notify the appropriate personnel.”
To ensure that the county is kept in the loop, any changes that are made to the EAP will be disseminated to the holders of the plan, which includes the commissioners, Hanley explained.
“That way you are directly involved and can see what is happening with incident response,” he said.
Commissioner Phil Chamberland expressed his appreciation to the representatives for their work in formulating the plan.
“I think that from what I can see it is very beneficial to us, so I appreciate you doing the work,” Chamberland said. “I understand some issues are beyond people’s control, but for the community, I thank you.”