EPA tells Colorado to get tough on mine

  • Discharged waste from pipes into Arkansas River

    Kimi Matsumoto/Nat'l Wildlife Fed.
  The EPA told Colorado to tighten its regulations for an open-pit gold mine near Victor or risk having the EPA take over the process.

Three years ago, the state turned to the federal agency to clean up the disastrous Summitville mining site in Colorado's San Juan Mountains when the owners declared bankruptcy and left behind a mess of cyanide and other wastes (HCN, 1/25/93). The clean-up has already cost over $100 million.

"We do not want a repeat," the EPA's Kerrigan Clough told the Rocky Mountain News.

The agency's warning about the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Company came as a response to a local group. Citizens for Victor (HCN, 5/18/92) asked the EPA to intervene because the state's draft permit allowed a highly acidic discharge of 2.8 from the mine. The Clean Water Act requires a pH of at least 6.

The company acknowledges that waters flowing off the site are acidic, but maintains that it is not responsible because the pollution is natural or results from previous mining operations. Roger Flynn, an attorney for the citizens' group, says the new mine's drainage system collects all the runoff from the site, making it impossible to determine the pollution's source. But, he says, the company should clean up the water no matter what the cause.

"If you buy an old mine site because you think you can extract millions in gold," says Flynn, "then you should be responsible for cleaning up the runoff."