December 18, 2015--For enviro groups, Gold King spill intensifies mission (Durango Herald)

Though the Animas River has returned to its normal shades of blue, not all has returned to normal since last summer’s Gold King Mine spill. For a handful of local environmental groups, operations have vastly changed since the national spotlight turned on Southwest Colorado on Aug. 5 when the Environmental Protection Agency triggered the release of 3 million gallons of acid mine drainage 10 miles north of Silverton. The spill turned the Animas orange and, ultimately, affected three states. Today, as the community of Silverton pursues negotiations with the EPA toward a Superfund listing, officials for those organizations agree: roles may change but the work continues. Founded in 1994, the Animas River Stakeholders Group was intended to be an alterative to a Superfund designation, with scientists, environmentalists, mining interests and government representatives working together to improve water quality in the Animas. Over the past two decades, the group has completed a number of remediation projects to clean up damage from inactive or abandoned mines in the upper Animas watershed. But because of liability issues, the ARSG has never been able to take on larger polluting sites, and as a result, the overall health of the river has not improved. Peter Butler, a coordinator for ARSG, said stakeholders had never worked on any sites around Gold King, yet when the blowout occurred, the group became a focal point for communication and public information. “We probably, literally, answered several hundred phone calls,” Butler said. “My wife counted and said I had 126 phone calls in four days, and that’s not including my cellphone.” In the past, the group’s meetings were sparsely attended, and usually dealt with technical details. Butler said the ARSG’s first meeting after the spill, on Aug. 25, garnered unprecedented attendance. “We probably ended up having at least 100 people show up in August,” he said. “Because we had people who had never attended before, we couldn’t go into a lot of the other aspects we work on. We spent a lot of time just bringing people up to speed.” The past few months, Butler said, has been dominated by work concerning Gold King. He said now the group regularly receives calls from people who claim they have the latest technology to solve water quality issues in the basin. That’s nothing new, he said, but what is unique is they now present on their own dime. “Everyone wants to be the entity that can say, ‘We treated the Gold King spill,’” Butler said. “We had one group from Texas that just put their whole machine on a trailer and just showed up. We’ve been working with them for a few months, and they may really have something.” Butler said the ARSG is eyeing closely how the Superfund designation plays out. The group has never taken a stance either way on the listing, but if the EPA and state health officials take over the mining district, it could affect how ARSG operates. “We’re not quite sure what our role is going to be,” he said. To view the full article visit the Durango Herald.