HomeNews Local groups raise more concerns with VCUP proposal
Local groups raise more concerns with VCUP proposal
Written by Mark Reaman
Wednesday, 30 July 2014
State agency also has more
questions of U.S. Energy
The local watchdogs keeping an eye on the voluntary cleanup plan (VCUP) being proposed by U.S. Energy for the old Keystone mine have submitted several concerns to the state about the proposal. The Red Lady Coalition (RLC) and High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) filed a joint letter with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) on Friday detailing their concerns. And there are many.
“We don’t think the current application provides sufficient answers to the questions that were asked by the CDPHE last March,” said RLC board president Bill Ronai, “and there are still a lot of gaps in the information that has been provided by U.S. Energy. The combination of those two things makes us feel that there is not enough information available to do a comprehensive and rigorous analysis of this VCUP proposal.”
HCCA’s public lands director Ali Melton agrees. “Overall, it is fair to say from our standpoint that we want a safe and effective cleanup that protects our water sources in the valley,” she said. “HCCA and the RLC hired consultants to conduct a technical analysis of the proposal and their take-away is that there is a vital lack of information from U.S. Energy to determine if this plan would be safe and effective. It doesn’t appear that USE has even responded to the questions CDPHE asked in March.”
USE controls the mining rights below Mt. Emmons and has proposed a molybdenum mine on the site, located just three miles west of Crested Butte. USE is legally obligated to run a wastewater treatment plant for water coming from the old Keystone mine. That plant costs nearly $2 million a year to operate.
So the company came up with the plan to perform a VCUP that would essentially plug up the mine and provide passive water treatment systems, as opposed to treating the contaminated water at the current wastewater treatment plant. The public has voiced concern that plugging the mine could allow contaminated water to seep out of the mountain in areas without being treated and could even contaminate wells and potentially the Crested Butte drinking water supply.
It could also potentially have a meaningful adverse impact on the local amenity-driven economy.
The letter from the RLC and HCCA to the CDPHE makes it clear that the community is concerned about the overall safety of its drinking water. “Given the proposed VCUP site’s importance for human health, the environment, and local economy, we are pleased that CDPHE in its March 21, 2014 letter requested that U.S. Energy Corp. provide additional information to supplement the proposed Amended Voluntary Cleanup,” the letter states. “We are concerned, however, that the information U.S. Energy has provided to date is not as comprehensive and rigorous as necessary to ensure protection of human health and the environment.”
HCCA and the RLC jointly hired Integral Consulting, Inc. to conduct a thorough evaluation of U.S. Energy’s amended VCUP and Supplemental Materials for the Historic Keystone Mine (HKM) site. Based on that consultant analysis, the two community organizations made it clear to the state that “We believe CDPHE still has not been provided with the information requested in the March 21 letter. Moreover, U.S. Energy has not provided additional necessary information to determine whether the proposal would be safe and effective. Our experts noted that the ‘current amended VCUP documentation fails to provide the necessary components of a monitoring plan, contingency plan, and detailed engineering design to ensure a safe and effective HKM treatment program for underground formation water.’”
Other concerns include the unknowns. “As the proposal currently stands, there is a risk of changing what is currently a one-point source discharge and compliance point into multiple-point source discharges in unidentified areas within the Coal Creek watershed, and potentially in neighboring watersheds, such as the Slate River watershed,” the letter of concern states.
The letter also states “Moreover, there has been no analysis, nor discussion, of the potential for a failure of the catastrophic bulkhead seal(s) or the surrounding rock and the attendant consequences. Such analysis is necessary and must evaluate the impacts on Coal Creek and the town of Crested Butte should there be an instantaneous release of underground formation water stored behind the bulkhead.”
The local watchdogs also feel U.S. Energy continues to actively pursue what appear to be contradictory activities on Mt. Emmons. “It recently came to our attention that U.S. Energy submitted a mine Plan of Operations to the U.S. Forest Service to conduct environmental data collection as a precursor to a NEPA process,” the letter states.
Doug Jamison, the Superfund/Brownfields unit leader of the CDPHE, said he would indeed be asking U.S. Energy for more information about the proposed VCUP. “USE didn’t submit to our agency what we expected after our questions to them last spring,” he said. “We need more substantial information.”
Jamison said while some of the information from USE was good, he wants to look more at what would happen to the local water if the VCUP resulted in contaminated water leaking elsewhere on Mt. Emmons. “What happens to the water when you begin filling up a mine?” he asked.
“We are trying to take into account the concerns of the stakeholders as well as be fair to the proponent,” Jamison emphasized. “We want to provide a fair evaluation.”
Jamison has seen the comments submitted so far, which also include statements from the town of Crested Butte and the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition. “HCCA and the RLC are asking for everything and some of that might be academic and not much help,” he said. “We will focus on the monitoring and contingency plans and focus on getting good information about the water situation.”
Jamison said the CDPHE would accept public comment on the VCUP plan through the end of July. He will get a formal request to USE by mid-August. The company will then have an opportunity to provide the requested information. At the moment, Jamison indicated there is not enough information from USE to consider the application.
“It’s admittedly a slow process,” said Jamison. “That’s because we are trying to be fair and consider all the information.”