Udall seeks to maintain Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel

By David O. Williams
Real AspenMay 25, 2011

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall has revived legislation compelling the federal government to maintain the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel that he calls “a potential safety hazard to the community” two miles above sea level in Lake County.

Perhaps Colorado’s most famous mining town, Leadville has become a bedroom community for the nearby resort towns of Vail and Summit County, and some residents are worried about toxins leaching from massive tailings piles and pouring into an increasingly decrepit drainage tunnel that’s been blocked since 2008.

Leadville's historic downtown.

“Concerns about the safety of the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel have persisted for over 30 years, as have questions about federal agencies’ responsibility to address those concerns,” Udall said today before introducing the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel Act.

“My bill will finally clarify federal jurisdiction and give the residents of Leadville, as well as the entire Arkansas River Basin, an additional measure of certainty that the federal government will maintain safe conditions at the tunnel.”

Udall’s bill clarifies that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation must maintain the structural integrity of the tunnel and it also compels the bureau to work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Colorado officials to come up with a long-term solution.

The EPA has been grappling with mining cleanup issues in Leadville for years, and the potential drainage tunnel disaster has made headlines for years, prompting local concern that it will fail and dump toxic water into the upper Arkansas River.

A previous bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives in 2009 but never won approval of the Senate.


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