Forward movement on Superfund

SILVERTON – Overcoming several decades of reluctance, elected officials in San Juan County on Monday evening authorized staff members to begin negotiations that could lead to a Superfund designation for several mines.

A miscalculation at one of those mines, the Gold King, unleashed an estimated 3 million gallons of orangeish water tainted with heavy metals down Cement Creek and into the Animas River. The Animas flows through Durango and into the San Juan, which goes into Lake Powell.

“This is just the first step,” said Willie Tookey, the county administrator. Adopted unanimously, the motion gives him authority to begin negotiating with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, a process that would put the upper Cement Creek drainage onto the National Priorities List.

In preliminary discussions, said Tookey in an interview Monday, local authorities were assured that Silverton could be excluded from the designation. He said there “is no other funding source or program that could adequately address the remediation needs of the Cement Creek area.”

While there are mines across San Juan County, the major problems have mostly come from the Gladstone area, located near the Silverton Ski Area. Four mines there routinely produce enough metals-laced water that fish have disappeared from portions of the Animas River.

Silverton and San Juan County for years have resisted Superfund designation, worrying about the economic effects. Recently, representatives of those jurisdictions, plus those downstream in Durango and the Southern Ute Tribe, took a three-day trip to visit comparable mining sites in Colorado that have been part of the Superfund program.

“What do you think property values would be if there had been no cleanup?” Willy Powell, Minturn’s acting administrator, asked. Instead of declining property values, he said, the mine cleanup has produced sky-high property prices in Minturn. Without the work, the river would still be orange and devoid of fish.

Minturn, which is adjacent to Vail, now formally includes the Eagle Mine, which has 65 miles of tunnels inside Battle Mountain. Mining there began in the late 1870s and continued until 1977. In 1984, the mine was allowed to flood.

After Superfund designation in 1986, negotiations took several years and even then things weren’t quite right. The Eagle River turned even more orange until a water treatment plant was completed in 1991.

The Denver Post tagged along on part of the trip and reports that representatives in both Leadville, especially, and Idaho Springs offered a more nuanced perspective. There were disagreements – loud ones in Leadville – but it was still the way to go. Same thing in Idaho Springs.

“We had no other choice,” said Nelson Fugate, a former Clear Creek County commissioner.

Perhaps the key quote from the Post story was from Ernie Kuhlman, a former miner and chairman of the San Juan County commissioners. “If we want some remediation immediately, we’re going to have to go that way,” he said. “I think our downstream partners – Durango, La Plata County, and the Indian tribes – want something done immediately.”

Meanwhile, $1.3 million in damages has been submitted to the federal government in connection with the August incident. Among those seeking compensation are rafting companies, local governments and the Southern Ute and the Navajo tribes.

Buried to his waist, he still needed  help

BRECKENRIDGE – So, you’re skiing the too-steep slopes of the backcountry or the sidecountry, and you get buried in an avalanche. Your buddy will dig you out, right?

Don’t be too sure of it. Consider the plight of an early season backcountry skier near Breckenridge. He only got buried to his waist. Still, it took Summit County Rescue almost until the sun went down to extricate him. A mission coordinator told the Summit Daily News that the man would have risked hypothermia had he been out any longer.

When terrorists go after billionaires

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, the New York Times examined the risk to people of great wealth. For example, the terrorist group Al Quaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in September called for the assassination of billionaires in the United States, including Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and the Koch brothers.

“It’s not an insignificant threat,” Christopher Falkenberg, president of the security and risk management firm Insite Security, told the Times. “They’re looking for the easiest target with the highest yield,” he said.

That, of course, raises the question of how much security billionaires need when visiting high-end mountain resorts. Aspen, for example, has dozens of billionaires among its full- and part-time residents, and many others fly in for conferences and so forth.

The newspaper didn’t delve into mountain resorts, but it did cite some eyebrow-raising numbers. Falkenberg, of the securities firm, said a security detail would start at $180,000 a year.

Whistler reality show hits higher mark

ASPEN – Another ski town-based reality TV show has debuted, and Andrew Travers of The Aspen Times thinks it’s pretty entertaining after watching the debut episode.

Whistler-based “Apres Ski” is “part workplace drama, part ‘Real World’-esque strangers-in-a-house and hookups-in-the-hot-tub spectacle, and part ‘Real Housewives’ rich diva train-wreck, with lots of luxury and mountain scenery to ogle and a dash of ski town spirit.”

The only previous reality show in a ski town setting was “Secrets of Aspen,” which had a run five years ago – and was, he says, “inane and gross.”

But “Après Ski,” if it stays in the mold evident in the first installment, leaves room for a different reality show.

“With its tourism-industry focus, it’s not looking to tell the story of a town or a mountain, though I think we’d all love to see somebody try that,” writes Travers. “It appears instead to be combining a lot of what’s worked in reality before – coupling up housemates, office battles, raging 1 percenters – and setting it against the colorful backdrop of a posh ski resort, where attractive people cater to the outrageous requests of attractive rich people. Rest assured, before the season’s done, it’s all going to go boom.”

Record crowds this year in Yellowstone

JACKSON, Wyo. – Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks have been getting busier and busier in autumn.

Twice as many people made the trip to Yellowstone in October, when gas prices were low and the economy was chugging along nicely, as compared to six years ago, at the depths of the recession.

But crowds came earlier and stayed later, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

Shoulder seasons, says Grand Teton park ranger Clay Hanna, “are beginning to look a lot like June, if not July and August.”

National Park Service officials are preparing for even bigger crowds next year. It will be the centennial anniversary of the agency, gasoline prices will probably stay low, and the May issue of National Geographic will be a special issue wholly devoted to the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

At some of its gateway communities, including Jackson, the Park Service has held “listening sessions” this fall devoted to how the agency can better accommodate and ease the effect of the burgeoning crowds.

Grizzly experts get lecture on attitudes

JACKSON, Wyo. – Federal wildlife managers in the Yellowstone National Park and adjoining areas say the public should think of grizzly bears in terms of total populations, not specific bears.

But Tom Mangelson, a famous wildlife photographer, and other members of the public were having none of that reasoning when it came their time to speak at a recent meeting in Jackson.

“I think in the last 35 years we … we come to the realization that animals feel emotions and feel joy and pain just like us, just like our animals, just like our dogs,” Mangelson told the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee.

– Allen Best

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