Overdue mine cleanup bill introduced

Good news could be flowing into the Animas River from Washington, D.C. Last week, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall introduced “Good Samaritan” legislation to aid in efforts to clean up abandoned mines.

From its source tributaries in and around Silverton to its confluence with the San Juan River in New Mexico, the Animas River is tainted with heavy metal and acid load. The river contains traces of aluminum, cadmium, iron, copper, magnesium, lead and zinc, among other metals, due in part to abandoned mines. Abandoned mines are a serious environmental and safety hazard throughout the San Juan Mountains, Colorado and the West.

The Udall bill would open a new path for mine clean up. It would establish a permit program and enable volunteers to reduce the pollution flowing from an abandoned mine without being exposed to full liability under the Clean Water Act.

“This is an elegant and common sense solution to one of the biggest obstacles Good Samaritans face when they want to get these abandoned mines cleaned up,” Udall said. “Abandoned mines are a menace to the environment and public health and to the communities that rely on water flowing downstream. There are several groups in Colorado who care about their communities and want to protect them and who are ready to go as soon as we have legislation to help them get started. I’m dying to turn them loose so they can get to work.”

The Animas River Stakeholders Group is one such group. The volunteer organization was created in 1994 when the Animas watershed failed to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act. In the years since, the ARSG has worked to combine public, private and citizen efforts to stem pollution from mines and improve the water quality and aquatic habitats of the Animas. Thanks largely to the efforts of the stakeholders, the Animas River now meets requirements as it flows through Durango.

However, the upper Animas River Basin is still in need of big help. More than two dozen draining mine adits and shafts remain on the priority list. Without some liability protection, the group will not be able to address the toxic legacy. Bill Simon, Animas River Stakeholders Group watershed coordinator, has seen several “Good Samaritan” bills proposed and fail. He noted that the new Udall legislation fits the needs of local mine/tailings remediation. Unlike previous Good Samaritan bills, Udall’s would address liability issues only under the Clean Water Act, rather than tackling several environmental laws.

 “If it were to pass, it would meet our needs,” Simon said. “We think it’s a good bill. We really don’t see any downside to the approach he’s taking this time.”

Whether the bill stands a chance of passage remains uncertain. However, Simon is optimistic that the political climate is finally right for such a law to go on the books.

“If it passed, it would do the job,” he said. “And it would finally allow us to do some further mine clean-up.”


Fort Lewis clinches MTB Nationals

Fort Lewis cyclists four-peated as national champions last weekend. The local squad outpedaled its rivals in Truckee, Calif., and clinched another Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships.

Fort Lewis earned a total of 671 points over the weekend to best the 589 earned by its closest rival, the University of Colorado. Playing a significant role in Fort Lewis’ overall win was the domination by Rotem Ishay of the men’s cross country and short track races. Ishay, an Israeli national, put forth the most dominating performance of the day on the cross-country track. He took immediate control of the 30-mile contest and built a substantial lead in the first lap. Ishay was able to grow his lead to eight minutes by the end. 

“The course was pretty awesome,” he said. “It was climbing for half way and was really hard with no rest at all. The coming down part was really fast and smooth with berms and jumps.”

On the gravity side, FLC’s Emma Millar won the women’s four cross while Sage Wilderman posted the fastest result in Sunday’s women’s downhill race. Wilderman also capitalized on a third

place cross-country finish and went one better, clinching the individual omnium title for best overall female racer.

A total of 22 national titles were on the line at Truckee’s Northstar at Tahoe Resort, and

300 student athletes squared off during the weekend


WRC spotlights local earnings gap

Local women started to close the earnings gap with men during the first decade of the 21st century. However, there is still room for improvement, according to a demographics analysis by the Women’s Resource Center. Local women continue to earn less and are more likely to live in poverty than men, especially if they have children, according to the study.

“Now, more than ever, we need to open doors and find ways to help women achieve economic self-sufficiency for themselves and their families,” said Liz Mora, WRC’s executive director. “The rate of single women with children who live in poverty continues to grow, and women continue to earn significantly less than men in La Plata County.”

The WRC’s analysis draws upon statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, and the Region 9 Economic Development District. While the data is not new, the Women’s Resource Center compiled the information to better understand the status of women in La Plata County as staff and board members begin work on a new strategic plan in 2010.

“La Plata County is blessed with many resources to help families in need,” said Mora. “The strategic planning process will help us ensure that we’re making the best use of our resources to help women become economically self-sufficient without duplicating other efforts in the community.”


Sustainable development forum set

La Plata County will take a crack at defining the “s” word next week. As part of its ongoing community visioning process, the county is kicking off monthly education forums. The effort gets under way on Mon., Oct. 26, with “Planning for Sustainable Development: What Does It Really Mean?”

The forums are meant to help local residents better understand opportunities and challenges. Marjo Curgus, director of training and community leadership for the Sonoran Institute, will lead this first event, set for 6 p.m. Oct. 26 in the Durango Recreation Center Sunlight Room.

The presentation will cover the basics of viable agriculture and land preservation, planning for climate adaptation and mitigation, integrating green design into community policy, and growth management. Curgus will also present an overview of where La Plata County stands today, what other communities around the West have done, and then lead a discussion with participants about what La Plata County should consider as it drafts a comprehensive plan.  

More information on the event and the comprehensive plan update is available at: http: //co.laplatacountyplan.com.

– Will Sands