The Environmental Protect Agency announced Thursday that it had awarded the town of Silverton an $800,000 Brownfields Multipurpose Grant to clean up contaminated areas in and around the popular tourist destination.
The town, once a hub of activity amid a mining boom, is now surrounded by scarred landscape that bears the hazardous remains of a bygone extraction frenzy. Silverton Town Administrator Gloria Kaasch-Buerger said the funds would be used to improve specific areas identified in the town’s master plan to improve the landscape for both residents and visitors.
“It's going to address both the need to beautify the town, as well as to attract visitors, as well as to retain our current residents and give them more assets,” Kaasch-Buerger said.
The grant will be used to address three “target areas”: the town core, the Animas River corridor and the Cement Creek corridor. The latter two priorities refer to sections of the waterways that run through or adjacent to the town.
Within the target areas, the town intends to use the funds to clean up waste rock piles and mining equipment littered along the Animas River flood plane at the Lackawanna Mill, mine tailings on 5 acres along Upper Cement Creek and a contaminated 2-acre site slated for affordable housing development known as the Zanoni property.
Silverton sits at the south end of the Bonita Peak Mining District, a Superfund site designated following the August 2015 Gold King Mine spill. The designation had long been protested by Silverton locals, who feared it would only drive tourists away, but came to be viewed as the best possible reaction to the spill, which made international headlines.
The EPA has spent over $75 million on cleanup efforts in the district since 2015. But the Brownfields grant gives the town the opportunity to direct spending toward its own priorities – something some Silverton residents have voiced a desire to do in the past.
Earlier this month, the Colorado Attorney General’s office also announced a $5 million settlement with the EPA over federal liability for mine waste in the Silverton area. The Brownfields grant is a smaller, albeit more localized award for the community of about 650 that sits at the headwaters of the Animas River.
The EPA also announced Brownfields grants to five other communities in Colorado. Funding for the grants comes from $1.5 billion directed to the program in President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
“The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is helping clean up and revitalize communities across Colorado,” said U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in a news release. “With this funding, Buena Vista, Pueblo, Telluride, Silverton, San Luis and Trinidad can make sure these sites are safe for the families living near them and restore them in ways that meet the communities’ needs.”
Kaasch-Buerger said the grant is just one of 44 potential funding streams the town is exploring for environmental and development improvements.