SUMMITVILLE MINE — At the top of a snowy peak in the middle of the San Juan Mountain Range in Rio Grande county Colorado sit piles of toxic orange sludge covered in fresh white snow. The sludge, dirt, and heavy metals removed from the creek water has been moved here as part of a United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund cleanup project.
For the past 25 years, the USEPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment have been building a multimillion-dollar, state of the art water treatment plant at 11,500 feet to treat the heavy metal filled river flowing down from the old mine site.
The mine has had problems since its beginning. In 1986, less than one week after the mine began operating, it began to leak cyanide. The mine’s problems didn’t stop there. From its opening until its close in 1992, it had a multitude of different issues caused by human error and lack of planning according to the CDPHE.
Summitville Consolidated Mining Company, Inc., the Canadian company that owned the mine, couldn’t control the flow of water off of the piles of minerals into the creeks and groundwater. This was caused by a lack of planning and a harsh winter with more snow than usual.
“When they were having a hard time managing their water at night time, the owner then directed staff to do night time discharges over into this creek right here, Wightman Creek, which bypassed their water impound collection system,” said Mark Rudolph, project manager of multiple Superfund sites.
The USEPA eventually discovered signs of their illegal dumping and issued violation notices, cease and desist orders, and created a Remedial Measures Plan. Months later, the company filed for bankruptcy, giving the state of Colorado a 12 day notice that they were stopping operations.
“Being a Canadian mining company, they threw their arms up in the air and said ‘we’re out of here,’” said Rudolph. “If it had been a U.S. company things would’ve gone differently.”
There was no court hearing, only an out of court settlement. The former president and Chief Executive Officer of Galactic Resources Ltd., the parent company of SCMCI, was only required to pay $26 million to CDPHE and the USEPA for site maintenance and $5 million for natural resource damages.
“My impression is that he had hidden funds in the excess of $100 to $200 million, ”
American taxpayers have been left to pay the rest of the costs. The clean up so far point has cost $300 million and the project will require another $2 million a year for the rest of its life, with no foreseeable end and no additional money from the perpetrators said Rudolph.
“I feel like he got away with a lot more than what he settled for.”