Enemy Mine

Old mines are polluting the water, but this mountain town doesn't want to get shafted by the EPA.

CAGE invited members of the EPA's enforcement division, which is responsible for identifying polluters, and, if possible, making them pay, to a meeting to answer some of these questions, but they declined. NPL coordinator Williams says the enforcement division isn't allowed to talk to the public about liability during an investigation. But he adds that "homeowners are not likely to be liable. There are residential property exclusions in the law."

And Williams insists that the EPA didn't spring Superfund on the communities; people like Edelstein and his wife, Nancy, who moved to Jamestown two years ago from New Jersey, simply weren't around when the agency first started talking about it, and he says he has the documentation to prove it.

In February 1997, the James Creek Watershed Initiative, a nonprofit organization that works to improve the area's water quality, wrote a letter to EPA site assessment manager Pat Smith confirming her attendance at an upcoming public meeting regarding mining's impact on the creek. "You are going to kick off the evening with quick-and-dirty policy discussion of why the EPA chooses to support watershed initiatives. Of special interest to the community will be your concerns with local water quality and the potential for areas within our watershed to become 'listed,' and the ramifications if they are," wrote Mark Williams, a Jamestown resident, Watershed Initiative boardmember and water quality program coordinator for the Boulder County health department. Smith recalls attending that meeting and discussing Superfund.

The EPA also met with the town council in Ward, says David Williams, and the members seemed to support the cleanup. Although there is no impact on Ward's drinking water, because the nearest mine sites are located south of town, some of its residents, like town councilmember Peter Gleichman, worry that the Superfund boundary could include Ward and that the town could be charged for cleanup costs. "The issue isn't that we don't want this cleaned up -- everyone who lives in the mountains has great respect for the environment. We just want to know what it means for us."

David Williams blames the county for not doing a good job of communicating the possibility of Superfund with Jamestown and Ward residents, and Mark Williams, who's been acting as the liaison between the county and the mountain communities, agrees. "It was initially framed as a mine-site cleanup issue," he concedes. "When we talked to the Western Center for Environmental Decision-making about how to frame the issue, we thought, at the time, that we didn't want to talk about Superfund initially because we didn't want it to look like we were pushing an agenda. We didn't want it to look like there weren't other options, but as it turns out, Superfund may be the most viable one."

Once it appeared that Superfund was a serious possibility, the EPA assured townspeople that the sites wouldn't be listed without their support. But CAGE members and Ward residents, who hold a townwide vote on every controversial issue before deciding whether to support or oppose it, say they can't get community consensus without knowing more. They admit that David Williams and people from the state and county health departments have been receptive to them -- officials have shared data when asked, talked freely to residents on the phone and come to town for additional meetings -- but they still don't know what to expect if the sites make it onto the NPL. And people in both towns say they haven't had enough time to inform their neighbors about what they do know.

"We feel this whole process has been railroaded," says David Patterson, who's part of CAGE and serves on the Jamestown board of trustees.

Jamestown residents worry about the effects of big trucks coming to haul out waste. The roads may not be able to withstand the increased traffic, and the town may not have enough money to maintain them. More traffic also poses a safety concern: There are no sidewalks in town, and crossing the main street is already dangerous. The trucks will also stir up dirt on the unpaved road leading to the park, and since homes line both sides of the street, people aren't too keen on what could be years of dust and noise in their quiet neighborhood. The park is in the middle of town, so homeowners are also worried about their property values declining.

"There may be a short period of time where residents will see a flattening of property values," David Williams acknowledges. "But someday the property may be more attractive because there are no tailings left. We just have to continue on with our remedial investigation, which may show that nothing needs to be done to the park." Or, he says, the studies may show that the park needs only slight remediation, like additional vegetation or a barrier to prevent tailings-laden water from seeping into the creek.

The fact that those things won't be known until after the town is listed as a Superfund site doesn't make sense to CAGE members. "That's like performing surgery on someone, opening them up and looking at their organs and then saying they need a haircut," Edelstein says.

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