Red Arrow cleanup remains in limbo

Montezuma County landfill moves to limit costs of accepting waste

The Montezuma County landfill has taken a proactive measure to help save taxpayers any unnecessary expense when disposing of nonhazardous waste from the Red Arrow mill in Mancos.

Landfill manager Deb Barton recently requested clarification from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about accepting any non-hazardous waste from the federal Superfund site. Acting as a concerned citizen, Barton said she sought the clarification in order to help lower waste disposal transportation costs associated with the cleanup effort.

“Why pay an extra 50, 60 or 70 miles of transportation when we’re basically 20 miles from Mancos?” she asked. “If this will reduce the cost to taxpayers, isn’t that my responsibility as a citizen?”

“The EPA is going to tear down everything at the mill, and they would like to keep any non-hazardous material as close as possible,” she said.

After an environmental investigation by state authorities, the EPA issued a temporary 60-day permit for the landfill on Feb. 28. Barton said state and federal laws prohibit the landfill from accepting anything but non-hazardous and non-liquid waste only.

“We’ve been certified to meet EPA standards,” said Barton. “Does that mean they can bring the material to me willy-nilly? No. They have to prove that it is non-hazardous.”

Barton said a certified EPA lab report stating the waste was not hazardous would have to be produced before receiving any non-hazardous waste from Red Arrow. Any mercury tainted waste from the milling site must be less than 0.2 parts per million, and any lead or arsenic polluted material must be less than 5 parts per million, she said.

“The EPA will test everything that comes out of the milling site, because they don’t want another Superfund site along the way,” Barton said. “The EPA would not allow any waste to come that doesn’t meet their standards, so I’m not going to screw the pooch either.”

Because of the EPA lab results, Barton said she remained confident that no hazardous material would ever enter the local landfill. She added that nearby archeological sites, ranchers and ordinary citizens also have nothing to fear.

“If the waste doesn’t have that EPA lab report, then it will be going someplace else,” Barton said. “I’m not going to take any hazardous material.”

Located on Grand Avenue just outside of Mancos, the Red Arrow milling site was ordered closed by the Colorado Department of Reclamation and Mining Safety in June. DRMS officials also closed the Red Arrow gold mine some nine miles northeast of Mancos. Owner Craig Luikko was subsequently fined $335,000 for six violations, including operating a mine without a permit.

At this time, however, the entire waste disposal issue is moot, because all cleanup efforts at the milling site are stalled because of pending bankruptcy proceedings in Texas. Red Arrow is embroiled in a complicated bankruptcy case with partner company American Patriot Gold and a New York hedge fund, Maximilian Investors.

EPA on-scene coordinator Craig Myers said no final decision has been made about disposing of Red Arrow waste. Instead of a landfill, the polluted material could potentially be returned to the Red Arrow mine site, he added.

“I would like to point out that waste will not be stored anywhere,” Myers said. “If sent to a landfill, the waste would be permanently disposed of. If sent to the mine, the waste would be placed into a permanent tailings repository and capped.”

Myers said any material that neither failed hazardous waste test nor was otherwise hazardous waste by definition would be disposed of at a Subtitle D non-hazardous waste landfill, like the Montezuma County landfill.

“This would likely include contaminated wood and other porous materials from the milling operation, as well as ancillary solid waste from the cleanup,” Myers said.

Hazardous waste from Red Arrow would be sent to an appropriate Subtitle C facility, the closest of which are in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Grassy Mountain, Utah; or Deer Trail, Colo., Myers said.

Last week, Montezuma County Commissioner Keenan Ertel said that Luikko maintains he was not responsible for any environmental pollution. Luikko wrote a “convincing” argument in a recent rebuttal email that initial mine investors set Red Arrow up in a “loan to own scam,” which led to the contamination, Ertel added.

“(Luikko) said the investors set him up to fail,” Ertel said.

Ertel declined to share Luikko’s email with The Cortez Journal.

An EPA assessment of the Red Arrow milling site in December revealed that nearly a quarter of soil samples exceeded arsenic levels and three soil samples had above average or exceeded mercury levels.

The state’s Mined Land Reclamation Board has subsequently conducted multiple hearings. Liukko has failed to attend any of those proceedings.

DRMS officials maintain the milling site does not pose any public health risks.