Public input request from EPA results in misunderstanding

Meg Hilling
September 14, 2017 06:16 PM

DURANGO, Colo. -- When asked, public input can play a major role in the formation and delivery of projects in the region. However, at times these requests can be misunderstood.


That situation happened with a request for public input this week by the Environmental Protection Agency. On Tuesday, the EPA put out a request for public input this week on construction at the Gold King Mine. It left many along the Animas River left scratching their heads.

The request for public input listed a variety of proposed projects to be carried out up at the mine, such as the drilling of a horizontal well within the entrance of the mine in order to install a flow control structure.

The confusion began shortly after the announcement when it was noted in a Bonita Peal Mining District update from August, that the drilling of the well had already begun. For many residents along the river, it initially looked as though the EPA was seeking input on a project that was already underway instead of getting public input and then starting the construction.

"I would think that they would want to know what the public wanted before they actually started the project rather than afterward," Durango resident Kathleen Tischhause said. "That does seem odd to me." 

"I do think getting public comment is an excellent thing to do by the EPA. But I also think that it's kind of ridiculous to go ahead and start their remedial programs before you have all the public comment," added another Durango resident, Barry Spear.

"I think it is really important to get community input before they do any of the things that impact our environment," Durango resident Heidi Chowen said.

EPA worked to clarify the situation with this comment on Thursday morning:

"In this case, EPA is accepting public comment on the administrative record file for a time-critical removal action, which includes the drilling of the horizontal well at the Gold King Mine," said Rebecca Thomas, a remedial project manager for the EPA. "For these types of removal actions, we are required to make the administrative record available to the public within 60 days of on-site removal activity. At that time, we also provide at least 30-days for the public to comment on the administrative record."

In other words, the EPA sought public input not on the project itself, but on the documentation behind the project.  The mix-up aside, some residents said they were still very pleased that efforts are being made by the EPA to prevent another mine blowout.

"Well, we are just very, very fond of our precious river here and we want to keep it that way," Tischhause said.


Meg Hilling

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