In mine reclamation, lessons are learned through failure. Nowhere has the failure been more spectacular than at the Summitville Gold Mine in southern Colorado.
mine is being reclaimed now, but at a huge cost, borne almost
entirely by people and companies that had nothing to do with the
"This is the biggest mine reclamation paid
for by Superfund," says Jim Hanley, the Environmental Protection
Agency's project manager for the Summitville
A Canadian company, Galactic Resources
Ltd., ran the Summitville mine from the mid-1980s until 1992, when
the company went bankrupt, leaving a cyanide heap-leach pond and
other facilities that leaked pollution into the Alamosa River. The
pollution killed fish and endangered farms that used the water for
Galactic had posted a bond to help
cover the cost of reclamation, but it didn't amount to much. Around
the West, the bonding requirement varies from state to state.
Colorado's Division of Minerals and Geology had required Galactic
to post only $4.5 million. Worse, only $2.3 million was cash; the
rest was in liens on the company's equipment.
far, the cleanup has cost $120 million, with the total estimated to
reach $150 million, not including lawyers' bills. Almost all the
money has come from the Superfund, which is endowed mainly by fees
on the oil and chemical industries.
At the mine,
two adits that were draining have been plugged, waste piles have
been capped, the pit has been backfilled, the tailings dam was
enlarged, water treatment plants have been modernized and a new
plant built - and still the site leaks some pollution. The cleanup
Criminal charges have been pressed
against two of the company's former executives, alleging violations
of the Clean Water Act.
high-flying businessman who put the Summitville mine deal together
and ran it for six years, Robert Friedland, denies responsibility
and hasn't been charged. The criminal investigation continues, and
EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice are pressing a civil court
action against Friedland. Denver's Rocky Mountain News has dubbed
Friedland the "King of Denial."
famous for high-risk mining ventures, and continues to establish
new mines in Canada, Africa and South America, some of which are
reportedly earning him hundreds of millions of
"We'd like to get at least something
from him" to help pay for the Summitville cleanup, says the EPA's
Learning the hard way, Colorado,
whose agencies are also involved in the Summitville cleanup, has
toughened its monitoring and bonding. The bond on a newer
heap-leach mine near Cripple Creek has been set at a minimum of $40
million - all "real money," not liens - which, Hanley says, is