Silverton Changes Course, Seeks Federal Disaster Funds For Mine Cleanup

Photo: Gold King Mine Settling Ponds, Aug. 12, 2015 (AP)
Water flows through a series of retention ponds built to contain and filter out heavy metals and chemicals from the Gold King mine wastewater accident, in the spillway about 1/4 mile downstream from the mine, outside Silverton, Colo., Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015.

The Colorado town where a toxic mine leak earlier this month unleashed a torrent of heavy metals into Western rivers has decided to change course and request a federal disaster funds to clean up the mine.

The Silverton Board of Trustees and the San Juan County Commission approved a joint resolution Monday to seek the money.

Silverton's public information officer, Anthony Edwards, said that while local lawmakers are seeking money from Congress to build a treatment facility below the Gold King Mine, they are not seeking Superfund designation. Some in the community have opposed that designation, worried it might hurt tourism.

A crew from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency caused the leak when workers were trying to stabilize the partly collapsed Gold King mine ruptured Aug. 5, spewing 3 million gallons of metal-laced water. The mine had been plugged years earlier but was leaking toxic water, which is what brought the crew to the defunct mine in the first place. The waste entered a creek that feeds the Animas River, which runs through Durango.

The EPA has released internal documents available here that shed more light on what happened Aug. 5. One notes that the EPA knew about the potential for a catastrophe last summer. Another shows that contract workers from Environmental Restoration, LLC received just 30 minutes of site-specific health and safety training starting cleanup work at the mine.