Southwest Colorado leaders visit D.C. to push for Superfund funding

June 16, 2018



Ty Churchwell,, 970-903-3010

Randy Scholfield, TU communications,, 720-375-3961

San Juan and La Plata County officials say the Animas River cleanup depends on EPA priority and funding

(Washington, D.C.) In the wake of the Trump administrations proposed deep cuts to EPA funding, Southwest Colorado leaders flew to the nations capital this week to meet with top EPA officials and lawmakers to deliver a strong message: The health of the Animas River, and therefore our communitys economic health and vitality, depends on full funding of the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund process and other mine cleanup programs.

The group of Colorado officials included former Durango mayor and current City Councilor Dean Brookie, La Plata County Commissioner Brad Blake, San Juan County Commissioner Scott Fetchenhier and Trout Unlimiteds San Juan Mountains Coordinator, Ty Churchwell.

In recent public statements, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said that the EPAs primary focus under his watch will be Superfund cleanups. However, local communities such as Durango and Silverton are concerned that the draft 2018FY federal budget recommends cutting funds to the Superfund program by 25 percent.

In 2016, EPA declared portions of the upper Animas watershed in San Juan County (CO) a Superfund site to address the Aug. 5, 2015 Gold King mine spill and ongoing pollution caused by historic area hardrock mines, which for decades have leached toxic heavy metals into the Animas watershed, heavily degrading water quality in the upper parts of the watershed. The Superfund designation identified 48 mines in the Silverton area that could be cleaned up under the Superfund listing.

We asked that the Bonita Peak Mining District (BPMD) Superfund action be a top EPA priority, said Ty Churchwell. We urged the EPA to provide rapid, adequate and sustained funding to the BPMD process and to continue to work with the communities and stakeholders towards success. Its important that this cleanup is done rightand the hard truth is, mine cleanups take money and persistence. We simply want the job done right, as promised.

After the Gold King spill we were assured by the EPA during Superfund negotiations that the project to clean up the upper Animas watershed would be fully fundedit was one of the main reasons we were willing to endorse the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund process in Silverton, said Scott Fetchenhier, San Juan County commissioner. There really is no point in declaring a Superfund site if you aren’t going to fund it.

If you have ever stood on the banks of the Animas River, you know why we are so protective of it, said La Plata County Commissioner Brad Blake. The health and safety of the Animas river is imperative to the communities on the river. The economic benefit of a healthy river is vital for the people of Southwest Colorado, and an unhealthy river is devastating to our communities.

Southwest Colorado communities are also concerned, the group said, about the proposed complete defunding of the EPAs Non-Point Source (NPS) 319 grant program, which is one of the most important funding sources for non-Superfund mine cleanups. NPS 319 funds are utilized by watershed groups, non-profitssuch as Trout Unlimited and the Animas River Stakeholders Groupand state and federal agencies such as the BLM and Colorados Department of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS) to leverage monies collaboratively.

A lot of mining cleanups nationwide could grind to a halt unless the 319 program is kept funded, said Churchwell.

Moreover, the group called on the Colorado delegation and the administration to move forward with passing Good Samaritan legislation to help facilitate certain types of point-source mine cleanups. This could add great capacity to the EPAs efforts to remediate hardrock mine sites west wide.

I was honored to join Commissioner Scott Fetchenhier and Commissioner Brad Blake to advocate for continued funding of the Bonita Peak Superfund project, said Durango City Councilor Dean Brookie. We met with Senators Bennett, Gardner and Representative Tipton and were pleased to obtain resounding support for continued funding of the research and cleanup impacting the acid mine waste in the Animas River. In our meeting with numerous top officials at the EPA, we were also encouraged to hear that the support of the Bonita Peak Superfund continues to be one of the top priorities of Administrator Pruitt and senior officials in charge of Superfunds.

Brookie added, While some level of anxiety was resolved, we still understand the need to assist our Congressional delegates to continue support during the critical next round of budget formulation.

If done right, with sufficient funding and follow-through, the BPMD Superfund designation could finally solve the Animas chronic mine pollution problem and restore the Animas watershed to its full health and potential, said Churchwell. But that will only happen if its an agency priority with adequate and sustained funding.


Trout Unlimited is a non-profit organization with 147,000 members nationwide dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring North Americas coldwater fisheries and their watersheds. Colorado Trout Unlimited has 24 chapters and more than 10,000 members in the state.