Smuggler officially off Superfund list

Aspen Times Staff Report

The Smuggler Mountain Superfund site has finally been taken off the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund list.

The site, which included the Smuggler Trailer Park and other areas at the base of Smuggler Mountain, was officially “delisted” on Sept. 23, according to a written statement issued by Tom Dunlop of the Aspen/Pitkin Environmental Health Department.

The delisting brings to an end a community-wide conflict that started in 1983, when a researcher’s investigation into the mine tailings and other debris left over from Aspen’s silver mining heyday lead to the conclusion that the neighborhood was polluted with heavy minerals and other hazardous wastes that posed a threat to the health and welfare of the citizenry.

The agency began making plans for “remediation” of the site, meaning the uprooting of the trailer park and the scraping of up to four feet of topsoil from roughly 110 acres of the surface of the ground to remove the contaminated soils.

Dunlop said he was “frustrated” by the plan and by the initial lack of interest or resistance from the community. But ultimately, residents of the trailer park objected to the plans and formed the Smuggler Caucus, which by the late 1980s was armed with enough contradictory information about the Superfund listing that the city and county governments joined them in a battle with the EPA.

What followed was a community-wide uprising against the federal agency, and a virtual war that ended with Aspen being one of the few communities to halt a Superfund remediation plan in its tracks.

Through a series of legal skirmishes, scientific tests and studies by a panel of experts, it was at last determined that the tailings apparently did not pose an immediate or critical threat to human health, and the EPA backed off.

In his statement on the delisting, Dunlop said there will be a “community delisting celebration” on Nov. 18, at a time and place to be announced.