EPA To Add Gold King Mine, And Others In SW Colorado, To Superfund List

Photo: EPA worker at Gold King Mine (AP Photo)
An Environmental Protection Agency contractor works on the clean up in the aftermath of the blowout at the Gold King mine, which triggered a major spill of toxic wastewater, outside Silverton, Colo., Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015.

The site of the disastrous Gold King Mine spill and surrounding mining areas in southwest Colorado will be cleaned up under the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund program, officials announced Wednesday.

The Bonita Peak Mining District near Silverton includes dozens of historic mines, and the Gold King Mine. The Environmental Protection Agency accidentally spilled 3 million gallons of orange wastewater when studying the mine in August 2015. Many mines in the area drain thousands of gallons of water laced with heavy metals every day. Clean up in the area is highly complex, and expensive.

Silverton and San Juan County leaders endorsed the National Priorities listing because they hope it will set a clear path toward resolving the environmental problems for the area. Upper Cement Creek, which many of the mines drain into, hasn't supported fish life for years.

The EPA called the move "an important step" in getting the resources necessary to further study and clean up the area and downstream communities. The state Department of Public Health and Environment said they are "committed to working closely" with the EPA through the process.

“Listing the Bonita Peak Mining District is critical to addressing historic mining impacts in San Juan County and our downstream communities,” said Martha Rudolph, director of environmental programs for CDPHE.

Rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican who represents Colorado's Western Slope, offered muted praise of the EPA's listing.

"In the past year, my team and I have worked to hold the EPA accountable," Tipton said in a statement. "I am hopeful that with this designation, the EPA will continue to collaborate with local, tribal, and state officials and work to protect the local economy, maximizing local employment opportunities where possible and providing adequate funding to ensure the cleanup begins as quickly as possible.”

Officials say it could take years, or even decades to complete the clean up.