EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is expected to tour the Gold King Mine spill site near Durango on Friday, Colorado Politics has learned.
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, is expected to join Pruitt, according to sources, who were unable to speak on the record as the event has not yet been made public.
Gov. John Hickenlooper is expected to join the tour along with U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet — both Democrats. The visit with Pruitt will not be open to the public.
“Administrator Pruitt should meet with the affected communities on the lasting consequences of the Gold King Mine spill and work with them to identify solutions,” a Bennet spokesperson said. “Our office is urging the EPA to be inclusive and meet with as many community leaders as possible during his visit.
“We have worked for two years with the community to identify solutions, such as the Bonita Peak Superfund designation, and ensure communities and individuals are made whole in the wake of the spill. We hope administrator Pruitt will coordinate with us to ensure these important local voices are heard during his visit here.”
The EPA was heavily criticized under President Obama for the catastrophic spill in Silverton, which dumped 3 million gallons of old toxic mining sludge into the Animas River in August 2015, turning it a mustard yellow color.
The spill fouled rivers in three Western states with arsenic, lead and other heavy metals.
The EPA acknowledged fault in the spill, in which sludge flowed into creeks and rivers during restoration work at Gold King. The flow headed into the San Juan River in New Mexico and Utah. The EPA and a contractor were attempting to restore the inactive draining mine, but instead caused a blowout.
With a new administration under President Trump, many in southwest Colorado feared that they would be forgotten as critical restoration work continues in the area. The EPA added Gold King to its Superfund list in 2016, which opens up large pools of federal money for permanent reclamation efforts.
Multiple abandoned leaking mines were added as part of the Superfund listing, known as the Bonita Peak Mining District. Mining-related sites in the area have contaminated the Upper Animas, Mineral Creek and Cement Creek for more than a century.
Restoration aims at permanent water treatment and long-term water quality monitoring.
Local leaders in Silverton and San Juan County went through an evolution on the subject, having been opposed to the Superfund listing for many years. Locals feared that a listing would leave a permanent black eye on the tourist-driven community. But they eventually came around to supporting a Superfund listing.
Because of the hesitation and anxiety, local and state leaders are closely watching the EPA under Pruitt to ensure that cleanup efforts don’t damage local communities.
Many in the Durango and surrounding communities were outraged with the Obama-era EPA’s response in the wake of the spill, which included slow communication and disorganized emergency response efforts.
Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy upset the community when she landed in Durango in 2015 after the spill to hold only a 15-minute press conference and meet with local leaders behind closed doors. She did not hold a public meeting to answer the concerns of residents, nor did she plan a trip to Gold King Mine.
Pruitt could face similar questions from the community, which remains anxious about restoration efforts.
Check back with ColoradoPolitics.com, as this story is developing.