From the desk of Eric Heil, Rico Town Attorney
January, 2004

Hello, for the new year I am going to try to provide a newsletter update of activities on which I am working. There are many issues and projects which the Town is actively pursuing. As always with large and complex community issues, it is essential for residents and property owners to be informed of Town issues and activities. Also, it is critical for myself, Ashton, the Town Board and Planning Commission to receive input and participation by the community so that we can all make the best decisions. 2004 promises to be an exciting and active year as many projects that have been discussed and planned for years appear to be making tangible progress.

EPA: Lead Health Risks

Health risks associated with elevated lead levels in residential soils has emerged as a significant issue during the last several months. The EPA believes that soil sampling results thus far indicate that the elevated lead content in soils is an “acute health risk” and the EPA is now focusing on clean-up of lead as the most important and immediate activity.

Information of high lead content in soils has been available since 1995 when Rico Renaissance performed a Phase II Environmental Audit (called the ‘Walsh Report’) and provided the Walsh Report to the EPA and Colorado Department of Health. As a general rule of thumb, the EPA becomes concerned when soil lead levels are 500 to 1,000 parts per million or higher.

Last November the Rico Town Board requested the EPA to continue with enforcement action efforts to promote reconstruction of a treatment plant for the St. Louis Tunnel discharge. The following spring EPA became interested in lead levels in residential soils, then conducted a general sampling event during the summer. The results of this sampling event warranted actual residential soil sampling, which occurred this fall on participating properties. The results of this sampling event indicated many properties with over 1,000 parts per million lead content. Properties with particularly high lead content are the areas with historic mining activity, including the Atlantic Cable Headframe area, Van Winkle Headframe area, and Pro Patria Millsite (west terminus of Mantz Avenue).

The health risk associated with lead content in soils depends upon many factors, so it is much more complicated than a simple parts per million number. Children are the most at risk, so proximity to residential areas, schools and parks is important. Also, determining whether the lead is naturally occurring versus processed is important because naturally occurring lead is less “bio-available” which means it affects the body less. EPA is currently conducting a bio-availability analysis of the lead sampling information. The Town is also looking into blood leveling testing for children.

Next Steps

In early December EPA officials met with myself, Ashton and several Town Board members. Max Dodson, the Deputy Administrator for EPA Region 8, attended the meeting and is now personally overseeing EPA’s involvement in Rico. This is very encouraging because it is unusual for such a high level EPA official to be personally involved in a small remote community. EPA indicated that they will release the soil sampling results to individual property owners within the week.

A community meeting with the Town, EPA and ARCO is tentatively being scheduled for the second week in February to discuss soil samples, health risks, and clean-up options. EPA outlined four general options for clean-up, including (1) “Time Critical” Removal, (2) “Non-Time Critical” Removal, (3) Potentially Responsible Party (PRP) Lead Clean-Up, and (4) National Priority Listing. The first two options involve the EPA performing the clean-up work, then billing the PRP for the cost. Atlantic Richfield Corporation is the primary PRP that EPA is considering. The third option is a voluntary clean-up which can be performed under the Colorado Department of Health and Environment’s Voluntary Clean-Up program. The fourth option is the Superfund designation, which the Town has already opposed.

During the next two months the various options will be studied. The EPA would like an official position from the Town by March, so a lot of studying and community input will be required in the near term. ARCO has indicated that they are willing to perform a voluntary clean-up of lead soils, and they plan to present their preferred voluntary approach to lead clean-up.

Soils Clean-Up

Ashton and I met with several EPA officials just prior to Christmas to discuss soil clean-up generally. EPA officials indicated that soils clean-up usually involves removing the top 18” of soil from a residential yard. The removed soils must be trucked to an approved repository, which could be a locally approved dump area or a certified dump in the region (Utah being the closest). After removal of contaminated soils, clean fill would be backfilled, sod laid, and trees replaced. Of course, it is not likely to be that simple, quick or neat to remove and replace residential yards.

EPA officials indicated that they do not intend to sample soils or remove yards for any residential property owners that do not desire to participate in a removal program.

The former mining sites with high levels of processed industrial lead will likely be the initial focus for lead removal. More extensive sampling needs to occur so that all residential properties are able to participate in this program.

Town Streets

The EPA requested access to sample Town Streets last fall. This request was initially denied because the sampling at that time was proceeding under a potential Superfund enforcement action. Town has discussed sampling and clean-up of Town streets with EPA since then because all town streets will be excavated for the sewer system and because the streets adjacent to former mining sites are contaminated. Town has requested the EPA to conduct the sampling through the federal Brownfields program which not only provides grant funds for remediation but is also far more community oriented than an enforcement action. We hope to have more information about this approach for the February community meeting.

Costs

Of course environmental issues are important, and so are many other town issues, like clean water, water rights, plowing streets, waste water treatment, etc. We have researched clean-up projects in other historic mining mountain communities, including Leadville, Bonanza, Silverton, Aspen, Creede, Telluride, and Ward. Officials in Leadville, Ward, and other communities have repeatedly expressed the importance of strong community involvement in EPA clean-up actions. We are promoting community awareness and involvement, and Max Dodson has repeatedly assured Rico that EPA will work with the local community.

Environmental clean-up issues are very complex and time consuming because it involves a lot of technical data, project logistics, and coordinating between many federal, state, local officials, property owners, and PRP’s like ARCO. Town has submitted a variety of grant applications recently to assist with the cost of community involvement, including a $25,000 grant application to Department of Local Affairs for technical assistance and an $87,000 grant application to EPA for comprehensive watershed protection. Decisions on these grants will be made sometime in March. We are also working with the County Commissioners to promote their involvement and participation in environmental clean-up and watershed restoration programs.

Look for an announcement for an early February community meeting regarding lead health risks and clean-up options. Feel free to contact Ashton or I if you have questions about lead risks and clean-up options. E-mails are best: ericheil@frontier.net or ricomanager@montrose.net

 

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