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Know the West

Feds go after Summitville boss

  Taxpayers got mixed news in late August about the cleanup of southern Colorado's notorious Summitville gold mine.

The good news came from the Justice Department, which announced that it had convinced a Canadian bank to freeze $152 million in stocks owned by the mining executive who oversaw Summitville. That mine's toxic wastes killed 17 miles of river and forced the EPA to take over a cleanup effort in 1992 that is expected to cost the public at least $120 million (HCN, 1/25/93).

Mining magnate Robert Friedland cut his ties with Summitville in 1990, but Justice Department lawyers say he is still responsible for the cleanup. "People who do business in the United States cannot simply walk away from their environmental legacies with impunity, leaving the burden of cleanup on the American taxpayer," said assistant attorney general Lois Schiffer.

The bad news, however, came from officials of federal and state agencies who propose to lower water quality standards for the streams and rivers polluted at Summitville. The state contends that new computer models show the waterways were already significantly polluted before Galactic Minerals took over the site in the mid-1980s. But a group of local ranchers, water users and elected officials says a healthy fishery used to thrive in waters which the proposed standards would leave uninhabitable.

The local water conservation district has asked the state to delay hearings on the new rules until next year.

- Paul Larmer