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Environment: Bulkhead a big step in Peru Creek cleanup

All-out remediation effort targets acid mine drainage near Keystone Ski Area

Remediation work in progress at the Pennsylvania Mine site in Summit County, Colorado. Photo via Snake River Watershed Task Force.

Remediation work in progress at the Pennsylvania Mine site in Summit County, Colorado. Photo via Snake River Watershed Task Force.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — For decades, the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine has been oozing heavy metals — zinc, manganese, cadmium, lead and and arsenic — into the waters of Peru Creek, a small tributary of the Snake River near Keystone, Colorado. The site has been the focus of intensive study during the past 15 years with the goal of improving water quality downstream.

Last week, engineers and environmental experts took a big step toward trying to staunch that flow by blocking one of the mine tunnels. If all goes well, the new bulkhead could reduce the direct discharge from the mine by about two-thirds, said Jeff Graves, a remediation expert with the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety.

Graves explained that the new plug should force the water back into its natural underground pathways, trickling and percolating down through layers of rock and earth, and not as prone to the oxidation that’s key in the formation of acid mine drainage. Essentially, the work will restore the groundwater flow to more natural, pre-mining conditions, he said. Continue reading

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Environment: Ongoing cleanup tackles toxic Peru Creek

July 30 site visit gives public a chance to see progress in $3 million remediation project at abandoned mine in Summit County

November snow and ice along the Snake River, in Summit County, Colorado.

Heavy metal pollution from upstream sources has killed most aquatic life in the Snake River, near Keystone, Colorado. bberwyn photo.

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Staff Report

FRISCO — With recent increases in levels of toxic metals in Peru Creek, the ongoing remediation work at the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine, near Keystone, Colo., takes on an even greater importance in the context of water quality in the Blue River Basin and the Upper Colorado.

The mine, which produced huge amounts of silver 100 years ago, has been pinpointed as one of the main sources of acid mine drainage. Water seeping through the rocky ground trickles into the old mine workings, picks up contaminants along the way, then percolates back into Peru Creek near the head of the beautiful alpine valley.

During the last couple of summers, scientists and engineers have been working to reduce the pollution, and this coming week (July 30) there will be a public field trip to the site, led by Jeff Graves of the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety, as well as other members of the Snake River Task Force. Continue reading

Colorado lawmakers aim to create a good samaritan program under the Clean Water Act for abandoned mine cleanups

Bipartisan push could speed remediation projects

Pennsylvania Mine, Summit County Colorado.

The abandoned Pennsylvania Mine is the source of heavy metal pollution in Peru Creek and the Snake River. bberwynphoto.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A few months after the EPA unveiled new regulatory guidance for abandoned mine remediation, a bipartisan pair of Colorado lawmakers launched a new push to speed cleanups.

The new law proposed by Senator Mark Udall and Congressman Scott Tipton would give Good Samaritan groups additional binding legal safeguards they need to remediate the sites and clean up tainted streams. There are more than 7,000 abandoned hard rock mine sites located in Colorado and thousands more throughout the West.

“Runoff from abandoned mines throughout Colorado and the West threaten our water quality, wildlife and local economies. This common-sense, bipartisan legislation will further unleash so-called Good Samaritan groups and allow them to help address this problem,” Udall said. Continue reading

Colorado: Peru Creek cleanup to hit high gear

Agencies ready to tackle acid mine drainage at abandoned Pennsylvania Mine

USGS and EPA scientists take earth and water samples below the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine in Summit County, Colorado.

USGS and EPA scientists take earth and water samples below the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine in Summit County, Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

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Tainted water at the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine.

By Bob Berwyn

*Extensive Summit Voice coverage of the Pennsylvania Mine is online here.

SUMMIT COUNTY — Nearly a century after miners finished digging millions of dollars worth of silver, lead and zinc out of the Pennsylvania Mine, heavy machinery will once again rumble through the high alpine Peru Creek Valley.

But instead of burrowing deep into the ground to find precious metals, the workers this time will be trying to clean up the big mess left behind when the mine was abandoned. For decades, water coursing through the mine shafts has been dissolving minerals, resulting in acid mine drainage that pollutes Peru Creek and the Snake River. Concentrations of some metals, especially zinc, are high enough to kill trout.

After years of studying the mine, experts with federal and state agencies now say they are ready to try and tackle the pollution. They will provide details on the cleanup plan at the May 29 meeting of the Snake River Watershed Task Force. The public meeting is scheduled from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Keystone Center, 1628 St. John Road, Keystone. Continue reading

Udall visits Summit County to tout new mine cleanup rules

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Pollution from an abandoned mine turned the Blue River bright orange in April 2006. Bob Berwyn photo.

Public event planned Jan. 18 near Breckenridge

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Around the West, there are thousands of abandoned mines polluting streams and killing fish, and many volunteer cleanup efforts have been stymied by strict Clean Water Act liability provisions.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) for years has been working with the EPA to try and make it easier for Good Samaritan groups to tackle remediation projects without taking on responsibility for future pollution. Those efforts showed results in December, when the EPA issued new guidance specifying that Good Samaritans are generally not responsible for obtaining a Clean Water Act permit during or after a successful cleanup conducted according to a Good Samaritan agreement with EPA. Read the memo here.

Udall will be in Summit County Friday (Jan. 18) along with EPA Regional Administrator Jim Martin to discuss the new policy and the public is invited to attend the event, set for 11 a.m. at the Iron Springs Mill off Boreas Pass Road. Continue reading

Environment: EPA guidance to aid abandoned mine cleanups

Good Samaritan groups to get better protection from Clean Water Act liability

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Efforts to clean up toxic heavy metal pollution at the abandoned Pennsylvania mine site in Summit County, Colorado, could get a boost from new EPA guidance that gives Good Samaritan groups some degree of protection from Clean Water Act liability. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — New guidance from top EPA officials could speed remediation of abandoned Colorado mine sites by clarifying the terms of cleanup agreements between the federal agency and Good Samaritan groups.

The memo from EPA national headquarters to the agency’s regional offices extends the legal liability protections in cleanup agreements and specifies that Good Samaritans are generally not responsible for obtaining a Clean Water Act permit during or after a successful cleanup conducted according to a Good Samaritan agreement with EPA. Read the memo here.

The complex structure of the Clean Water Act has, in some cases, prevented community groups from proceeding with cleanups because of concerns over future liability for pollution. Continue reading

Colorado: Pennsylvania Mine cleanup moves ahead

Experts will enter the mine to develop a long-term remediation plan

Pennsylvania Mine, Summit County Colorado.

The abandoned Pennsylvania Mine is the source of heavy metal pollution in Peru Creek and the Snake River.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — For the second time in a century, heavy machinery will rumble high into the Peru Creek drainage — but this time, the bulldozers, loaders and trucks will be be there to try and clean up some of the mess left behind as toxic legacy of the mining era.

Local officials say the work planned this summer at the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine is a major step in  the ongoing exploration of the mine to investigate sources of heavy metal-laden waters draining from the mine and to improve water quality in Peru Creek and the Snake River, where concentrations of heavy metals like cadmium and zinc are high enough to kill trout and impair other aquatic life.

“We are very optimistic that, after years of collaborative work, we have reached the point where we can now enter the mine to identify potential mechanisms to reduce the acid mine drainage impacting aquatic habitat in Peru Creek,” said Summit County Open Space and Trails director Brian Lorch.

Visit the Snake River Watershed Taskforce online to see a compilation of the research to-date. Continue reading

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