Summit County considers cleaning old mine

Brief by Allen Best

Environment – May 2008 – Colorado Central Magazine

The heyday of the Pennsylvania Mine is now more than a century past, but the mine is still causing problems in Summit County. At this point, reports the Summit Daily News, some people are thinking that a Superfund designation may be necessary.

The mine is located along Peru Creek, near the town of Montezuma, and several miles upstream from the Keystone ski area and resort. Mining of silver, gold and other minerals began in the 1870s but petered out in the 20th century.

The problem is that the mining exposed rocks that water runs over, picking up heavy metals such as zinc. Such acid-mine drainage is a problem in many former areas of hard-rock mining in the West.

If the Pennsylvania Mine was a problem before, it became much more so last summer after an intense rainstorm apparently changed the way water flows through it. Since then, zinc concentrations downstream have doubled. At Keystone, the surge of tainted water killed hundreds of trout that had been stocked in the Snake River.

A listing under the nation’s Superfund legislation could attract federal money, but water specialist Lane Wyatt tells the newspaper’s Bob Berwyn that there are also downsides.

One downside to Superfund designation is that it attaches a stigma. French Creek, which flows through Breckenridge, was literally turned upside down by dredges in an effort to recover gold dust. However, Breckenridge did not want the notoriety of being the site of a Superfund cleanup.

Therefore, cleanups are occurring far more slowly than they might have.