Efforts underway to upgrade remediation at Eagle Mine

Pam Boyd
Vail Daily
The massive Eagle Mine Superfund cleanup site is located south of Minturn and stretches up to the abandoned community of Gilman.
Special to the Daily

MINTURN — In a valley where developable sites are highly sought after, the prospect of several hundred acres of vacant land located adjacent to existing community resources seems like a proverbial “too good to be true” deal.

In many ways, that is an apt description. The land in question is expansive and located next to the town of Minturn, but it also is part of the Eagle Mine Superfund cleanup site. While residential development is plausible in the area, the developers must work with the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Colorado to meet a more rigid cleanup standard before they can start building houses.

“For the original remediation, the standards were the recreational use standard,” said Jamie Miller, EPA Eagle Mine remedial project manager. “Development would require basically going in to find hot spots that don’t meet the residential standard.”

If the history at the Eagle Mine has taught us anything, work that sounds straightforward on the page is painstaking in the field. Battle Mountain Development has proposed bringing the Rex Flats and Bolts Lake areas of the Eagle Mine site to a developable standard but that plan will require sampling and study before the remediation can begin. According to Miller, this summer may see the first steps in that process.

A decade of discussion

The idea of developing some of the Eagle Mine property is not new. In 2008, Minturn voters overwhelmingly approved Battle Mountain Resort, a massive plan for 4,600 acres south of town.

Last summer, Battle Mountain Development officials announced that they had reached an agreement for an Administrative Order on Consent from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that would allow remediation work to begin near Maloit Park. They also confirmed the planned sale of the majority of the company’s land between Minturn and Red Cliff.

But Battle Mountain Development retained the Rex Flats, Maloit Park and Bolts Lake areas just south of town. Those are the areas that still require remediation of old mining waste. The original approval from Minturn for the area called for 700 units of “market-rate” housing on just more than 500 acres, plus a 13-story hotel, golf and commercial space. But in 2018, company officials said their plans for all but the homes had been scrapped.

Jennifer Chergo, the EPA’s community involvement coordinator for the Eagle Mine Project, noted the federal agency is not weighing in on the development plan itself. Instead, the EPA’s role will be to ensure the developers meet the remediation standard for residential projects. But a plan to bring the cleanup to a higher standard is, naturally, good news for the EPA.

“We are really excited that Battle Mountain Development wants to do this additional remediation. One of the original goals of the cleanup was to get private involvement in the project,” Miller said. “We are really looking forward to getting this work done.”

What’s up with the trestle?

When development proposals are bandied about for the Eagle Mine site, questions inevitably surface about the future of the wooden trestle that crosses the property. The massive structure dates back to the site’s mining heyday and is still in use today.

“Right now, the trestle carries the pipeline that carries water from the mine to the water treatment plant,” Miller said. “There aren’t any plans, right now, for anything to happen with the trestle.”

Miller said an archaeological assessment of the structure revealed it would be eligible for listing with the National Register of Historic Places and the Colorado Register of Historic Places. However, Kathy Heicher, of the Eagle County Historical Society, said she was unaware of any efforts to date to actually have the trestle listed as a historic landmark.

Activity and information

With the possibility of development looming at the site, locals will see more Eagle Mine Superfund communications and activity.

“Because there is more ongoing work we want to have more of a presence in the community,” Miller said.

That means both activity at the site and more community meetings hosted by the EPA. Miller said officials with the EPA and the state of Colorado will host quarterly information meetings about the site. The last one was held in December and the next will likely happen in March or April.