Emily Tracy: Work Plan for Cotter uranium mill site presents an opportunity

1 month ago Canon City Daily Record

You know what it’s like when a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity comes around, and you miss it. You kick yourself, you hold onto regret for too long.

Well, that’s where we are in the cleanup process for the Cotter uranium mill site and surrounding neighborhoods. A Work Plan will soon be approved that will outline new environmental testing in the Cañon City area, to determine the nature and extent of radioactive and heavy metal contamination from past uranium mill activities. Now is the time to let regulators know what you want to be tested!

Emily Tracy

A little background. The Cotter uranium mill south of Cañon City was built in the late 1950s and operated off and on until about 2011. In the 1960s and 1970s the mill was found to be the source of contamination of groundwater and soils in the mill area plus in Lincoln Park. The site was declared a federal Superfund site in 1984. Ongoing violations of the mill’s radioactive materials license continued off and on until the mill closed.

After a destructive flood in 1965 that brought contaminated water and materials into Lincoln Park, the Soil Conservation Service dam was built (in the early 1970s) to provide a barrier to the continuing flow of contaminated surface water. A pump back system was created onsite, to pump contaminated surface and groundwater that collects on the south side of the dam back to ponds and an impoundment on the site.

Contaminated groundwater still flows under and/or around the SCS dam. We know, too, that radioactive materials from the tailings impoundments were blown by winds toward the east, particularly in the early 1980s. No soil testing was done east of the mill site, to determine if the blowing tailings resulted in the contamination of private property. Though some wells in the Town of Brookside were tested many years ago, no wells or soils have been tested there in recent years, and Brookside was not included in the most recent water use survey in 2008-2009, regarding the use of private well water.

The current owner of the site Colorado Legacy Land acquired the property from Cotter several years ago and is responsible for the environmental assessment and cleanup process. The federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act or Superfund process is in the Remedial Investigation phase. The purpose is to better assess the mill-caused contamination. CLL recently submitted a draft Work Plan to do new environmental testing in the Lincoln Park area, and other areas that may have been contaminated by the mill. The community must comment on the proposed Plan no later than Feb. 15.

There is a Community Advisory Group for the Superfund site, which meets on the third Tuesday of each month at 4 p.m. with the regulators and site owner. It’s a hybrid meeting — the public can attend in person at the Fremont PCC Campus or by Zoom.

CAG members have a number of concerns which they will include in comments on the Work Plan. For example:

* We believe the Plan does not propose sufficient testing to determine if there was a deep path of contamination through old coal mine workings which underlie the site;

* Insufficient testing is planned in the dam-to-ditch area (between the SCS dam and the DeWeese Dye Ditch) to determine the rate and path of the flow of contaminated groundwater;

* We believe a new water use survey should be conducted to determine who might still be using contaminated well water; and

* We don’t believe adequate testing has been proposed for areas outside of Lincoln Park (no testing is proposed in Brookside, for example, and little will take place in residential areas to the west and northwest of the site).

The CAG asks that the community become involved at this very important time. Attend our monthly CAG meetings. Write a comment to regulators regarding what new environmental testing should be done. Let’s get the cleanup this community deserves.

Submitted by Emily Tracy on behalf of the Lincoln Park/Cotter Superfund site Community Advisory Group (CAG). Emily Tracy chairs the CAG. She can be reached at [email protected]

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