February 15, 2015--Is Silverton ready for a cleanup? (Durango Herald)

All around Silverton, where a series of mines – once lucrative, now abandoned – pock the earth like gaping, oozing wounds, the waters course with poison. Silverton resident Melody Skinner said her now dead dog Hannah wouldn’t drink water from Cement Creek – which U.S. Geological Survey scientists say is the largest untreated mine drainage in the state – though the creek runs right by her house. “She just refused,” she said. “That says something.” The stream of heavy-metal pollutants gushing out of Silverton’s mines and into its waterways has grown so toxic that between 2005 and 2010, three out of the four trout species living in the Upper Animas River south of Silverton have disappeared. Yet for two decades, vocal Silverton residents have torpedoed the Environmental Protection Agency’s many attempts to designate Silverton’s worst mines as Superfund sites, which would allow the agency to clean up the pollution and make any parties it deems responsible pay for it. Though the environmental catastrophe has, if anything, worsened, Silverton residents long have argued against Superfund, saying federal intervention would sully the town’s reputation, deter mining companies and appall tourists. Until now, that is. Even three years ago, it was impossible to imagine, let alone hear, a Silverton resident publicly clamoring for federal intervention in Cement Creek, said Mark Esper, editor of The Silverton Standard. Yet in the last year, he said, there have been signs that locals’ hostility to Superfund is softening. This month, Skinner said a Superfund listing would “raise property values here, provide great jobs that people here can do, bring new people in and get more kids in the school.” Silverton resident John Poole said, “Many people, including myself, think Superfund, frankly, is the best thing that could happen to Silverton. It’s certain to open up jobs. In Leadville, Superfund certainly didn’t hurt tourism.” There’s still local animosity toward Superfund. In 2014, at meetings of the Animas River Stakeholders Group (ARSG) and the San Juan County Commission, residents such as Steve Fearn, co-coordinator of the ARSG, warned a Superfund designation would hamper, if not ruin, Silverton’s economy. To view the full article visit the Durango Herald.