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Low turnout at Questa Superfund meeting | Environment
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Low turnout at Questa Superfund meeting | Environment

Two Questa officials requested an in-person visit after low attendance at the Superfund community meeting. Representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stated that they would visit Taos County where a former underground and open pit molybdenum mine was located as soon as conditions allow.

The Questa mine in northern Taos County was designated a Superfund Site in 2011. The cleanup costs are expected to exceed $800 million.

“We don’t have.” [an in-person meeting]”We can discuss that, but it is not something we have planned,” Nichole Foster, remedial project coordinator for U.S. EPA Regional 6. “We can certainly consider hosting an in-person meeting or doing another virtual one if the conditions are not ideal for in-person.”

A total of 20 community members joined around a dozen representatives from Taos County and the EPA, Chevron, and the New Mexico Environment Department to provide an online update on ongoing mine cleanup operations at five sites. These were the tailing area area east of Questa and the Red River riparian areas south of the tailing area area, Eagle Rock Lake and the mine site.

Molybdenum was mined and processed on the site from 1919 until 2014. After that, the mine was shut down. According to the EPA there are 300 million tonnes of waste rock at the mine and 100 million tonnes of tailings. The agency estimates that the site will continue to be remediated, including water treatment for at least 30 additional years.

“When will the site be 100 percent clean enough to be removed from the National Priorities List?” It will be far-fetched because of the nature and location of the site,” said Elizabeth Pletan EPA assistant regional counsel. “There is groundwater pollution [that]Chevron is treating and pumping water at its mine site water treatment facility. Groundwater contamination must be treated and pumped out.

Brent Larsen, chief of EPA’s permitting sections, explained that the renewal process for the site’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit (NPDES), was delayed for several years. This includes public comment periods by the states and federal governments.

He stated that the Red River was not impaired by Chevron mine releases at this time, adding that there are no high-levels of aluminum in the Red River.

Larsen responded to several comments regarding the Red River’s turbidity levels. He said that “turbidity is from many places that may contribute, but [the mine]”It is unlikely that it will be the sole source.”

John Anthony Ortega (Questa native) will assume the office of mayor starting April 1. He estimated that four-times as many community members had been to Superfund update meetings prior to the outbreak.

Ortega stated that they used to do them quite often before COVID. “It’s important that Questa hears from both EPA & NMED. It kind of clears up the air and sets records straight with information, not rumors.”

Charlie Gonzales, Questa’s outgoing councilor and former Chevron Mine Safety Officer, said that the remote meeting format is not universally accessible for village residents.

“We were experiencing a lot internet problems.” [March 14]Gonzales stated that he had to travel to Taos to get internet and that he regretted it. He then praised the overall presentation by the EPA. “It was very thorough, but you neglected to mention the medical issue. There are at least 170 people who have died of cancer, heart attacks, kidney disease, asthma, or other illnesses. I don’t think the answers we have received are satisfactory.

Heather Davis from EPA Region 6 assured Gonzales the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry “definitely conscious of the health problems that are out there, and we do know that we plan to go out there for those one on one discussions.”

Davis stated that the New Mexico Department of Health has asked Davis if there are any cancers she is aware of. If you know of any, we would be grateful for a list.

Gonzales also questioned a tentative plan to use a 2-foot soil cover over the former tailings sites, instead of the three feet required by the Record of Decision. In 2020, a pilot project was initiated to determine if two feet of groundcover is sufficient.

Gonzales stated, “We’re not going allow anybody to walk over that 2-foot cover. Therefore we’re restricted only to the recreational part the tailings.” “That’s a slap in our faces to this community.”

According to the EPA presentation the modified ground coverage depth is one of four elements of a fourth amendment to original Record of Decision. It would also include the design of a “permanent sludge reservoir” at the wastewater treatment facility, investigation and preliminary design of “Group 2 waste rocks piles” as well as a pre-design investigation of the south end of the tailing facilities.

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