Stakeholders group shares success

Last Friday 22 clean water enthusiasts gathered on Red Mountain Pass to embark on the Animas River Stakeholders Group celebratory remediation site tour. Visiting 24 mine sites from Red Mountain to Prospect Gulch to the old Lackawana Millsite just outside of Silverton, representatives from groups as broadly reaching as the EPA, Senator Ken Salazar’s office, Congressman John Salazar’s office, and the local chapter of Trout Unlimited viewed sites that had once been toxic with mine waste and are now touting green grass and cleaner water.

“The Stakeholders Group has taken on a life of its own,” said Greg Parsons, now retired from the Colorado Water Quality Control Board in Denver and one of the founders of ARSG. “They will continue to do good work out here.” 

Stephanie O’Dell, Abandoned Mine Lands Project Manager for the Forest Service and BLM, commented that it was rewarding to see something that had started as an almost daunting task as reaching such success.

“Generally, people are really pleased with the water quality improvement seen through the Stakeholders,” she said. “They have recently found trout at A72 (a region just below Silverton on the Animas River) and that indicates water improvement. When we started these projects, there weren’t any trout up that far.”

The sites on the tour represented only a small portion of the work the Stakeholders Group has been doing. Overall there is a list of 67 priority waste sites, chosen from a study of 1,500 sites, that the Stakeholders Group has judged to be the highest ranking contributors of metals to the Animas River. But they were impressive enough to show the visitors the extensive work that has been done.

Via “before” photographs and explanations of each project, ARSG Coordinator Bill Simon led the tour to understand the processes behind mine remediation. Efforts could be as technical as re-contouring inactive tailings ponds or diverting drainages, to hosting students from Outward Bound to help revegetate sites.

“Those kids were so enthusiastic,” said Simon of his work with Outward Bound. “After tracking all over the mountains and seeing the mine waste everywhere, they were so excited to actually do something hands-on to help the problem.”

It was a day of celebration, but it was also a day of considering what still needs to be done. Of more serious discussion was the Good Samaritan Bill that would help protect groups from liability when they are working to clean up water ways, and the continuing damage caused by ORVs driving through remediation sites.


Coalition fights energy development

A new watchdog is now keeping its eye on energy development in La Plata County, Colorado and the entire West. Sparked by concerns about oil and gas exploration’s impact on wildlife, a western wildlife coalition has formed. The group hopes to pressure federal and state agencies into ensuring that energy development is done responsibly. Wildlife federations from Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Montana have formed a united front in the face of record levels of oil and gas drilling.

Dennis Buechler, of the Colorado Wildlife Federation, explained that the current rate of oil and gas development will leave an unprecedented mark on the western landscape.  

“The tens of thousands of wells and accompanying roads and pipelines over the next decade will have more impact on our public lands, water and wildlife habitat than anything we’ve seen before,” said Buechler. “It will require a strong, coordinated effort by all conservationists, including hunters and anglers, if we hope to prevent major, permanent damage to fish, game and other populations of our native species.”

The coalition pointed to the recent passage of the 2005 Energy Act as providing unusually strong incentives to energy companies. The group said that the new policy will spur oil and gas development throughout the West.

Oscar Simpson, of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, explained that all Western residents need to present a united front against special interests.

“We are coming together to reclaim the middle ground from special interests,” said Oscar Simpson, president of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “We have to step forward and promote what’s best for the people as a whole. Our public lands are increasingly being used by Washington, D.C. politicians for sweetheart deals to reward special interests.”

The coalition has asked that operators be required to use best available technology and best management practices; that federal and state regulatory agencies be adequately staffed; that drilling be prohibited in critical wildlife habitat; that physical disturbance be minimized; and that there be recognition of places, like the HD Mountains near Bayfield and New Mexico’s Valle Vidal, that should not be opened to energy exploration.  


Local students shine on assessments

Local high school students continue to outperform their peers on standardized tests. According to recently released test scores, Durango School District 9-R students scored better on the national ACT and SAT assessments than Colorado and national averages.

Both tests measure college readiness and are used by colleges and universities nationwide as part of their admission standards. In Colorado, all juniors take the ACT, and last year’s Durango High School juniors earned an average composite score of 21.3 points compared with 20.2 points statewide. Local average test scores were higher than state averages in every subject area.

The ACT was administered to 327 Durango juniors in 2005. The 61 Durango students who took the SATs in 2005 also scored higher than their peers in Colorado and nationally. Durango students scored an average of 592 on the verbal test and 571 on the math test compared with the Colorado average of 560 on the verbal and 560 on the math.

The national SAT average is 508 on the verbal and 520 on the math.The school district recently raised its high school graduation requirements to include more English, math, and science credits. This year’s freshman class will be the first to meet the new requirements. 


Work begins on Colorado Trailhead

Work began this week to solve problems at the lower Colorado Trailhead located off of Junction Creek Road. The trailhead was closed beginning on Sept. 26 to facilitate work on the typically congested area.

According to the Forest Service, the project is designed to address safety issues created by inadequate parking and provide a higher quality trailhead for the popular Colorado Trail connecting Durango to Denver.

In coming weeks, crews will expand and improve parking, update signage, build a toilet, and provide universal access. Those wishing to access the Colorado Trail can use the alternate trailhead and the parking area located one mile further up Junction Creek Road. Construction is expected to be completed by Oct. 18.

-compiled by Shawna Bethell and Will Sands




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