By Associated Press - Thursday, April 24, 2014

SILVERTON, Colo. (AP) - San Juan County Commissioners are concerned after scientists and officials from the Environmental Protection Agency proposed Superfund designation for parts of Silverton polluted by mining operations, worried it might hurt their image as a tourist destination.

“Nobody is asking you to leap to designate this site as a national priority,” Martin Hestmark, the agency’s assistant regional administrator, told commissioners.

Hestmark told them that without Superfund designation, there would be no money for long-term cleanup efforts.

Silverton is known for snowmobiling and other winter activities, rafting, backcountry travel, fishing, ghost towns and mine tours.

The designation would enable the EPA to further study the Upper Animas mine basin and determine the severity of the problem. It could also help officials identify mine operators who may be responsible for the pollution.

If there is a need for long-term water treatment, the costs would be so great that only Superfund designation could cover the costs, Hestmark said.

The primary benefit of Superfund is to protect human health and the environment, he said.

“Superfund is a collaborative effort, too,” Hestmark said. “It’s about enlisting the community’s ideas. Collaboration doesn’t go away with Superfund. The criteria (are) very much related to community acceptance. We’re not just going to go away and come up with our own ideas and force them on the community.”

EPA officials said they would not seek Superfund designation without Silverton’s support, but they said the damage to the environment could be serious.

Commissioner Pete McKay said it may be possible to work with Sunnyside Gold Corp., which denies all liability for pollution, and perhaps arrive at plans that Sunnyside Gold and others can accept.

Silverton resident Melodie Skinner urged Superfund designation, the Durango Herald reported Thursday (

“As I’ve said for a long time, we need clean water, jobs, an improved economy. I don’t see anything else that’s going to bring this much money in the county. Let’s go for it.”


Information from: Durango Herald,

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