August 8, 2016--With cleanup, Silverton braces for other challenges (Durango Herald)

The jolting sight of a mustard-yellow river in the aftermath of the Gold King Mine spill was enough to incite the worst fears for Silverton’s future, mainly that the national headline-yielding blowout would destroy the community’s economic crown jewel: tourism. But a year later, with official Superfund status expected this fall, it appears the Environmental Protection Agency’s presence in San Juan County is more likely to pressure housing, roads and public services than sales tax. “With the anniversary coming up, this is a time for reflection, and we have some concerns,” said DeAnne Gallegos, executive director of the Silverton Chamber of Commerce. The expected impact is multifaceted, she said. When EPA crews are in town, they stay in local hotels and contribute to what has been a “stellar” tourist season, she said. But the nature of their work means the town of 600 is bracing for other challenges. “We’re very vulnerable having people in the backcountry doing that kind of work,” Gallegos said. “That’s our biggest concern.” Thus far, the EPA’s physical presence has been minimal since the Bonita Peak Mining District was proposed in April for Superfund status. In the preliminary stages of Superfund, the agency has begun investigating the mine sites in small teams. Superfund site manager Rebecca Thomas said five or six two-person crews collected surface water samples in early June, and about six officials visited in late July to collect soil and rock samples. Another 12 to 14 people are expected to continue sampling in September, which will be in addition to crews working at the Gold King site and treatment plant. Thomas said EPA crews lodge in Silverton if possible, and if there isn’t room, they stay near Purgatory Resort. A precise count of workers in the coming years is difficult to quote, she said. “As we get into remediation and cleanup, we might have people there more consistently.” What that means for public safety, particularly in the backcountry without cell service, is cause for apprehension in a small town with limited resources. San Juan County is the poorest per capita income in the state, meaning it has the lowest wages as a county than any other in Colorado. That reflects in its tax money and budget, and amplifies impacts that might be negligible elsewhere. To view the full article visit Durango Herald.