Residents living at the base of Smuggler Mountain will be reminded more frequently that the area is a former federal Superfund site, and that they must follow certain protocols when excavating soil, the Environmental Protection Agency recently ruled.
As it was, Pitkin County and the city of Aspen sent a letter every five years to property owners in the zone that includes Centennial, Hunter Creek, the Smuggler Park neighborhood and many more individual homes. The letter explains that, due to high concentrations of lead and other heavy metals found in the area because of waste left over from the mining days, a special permit is required if more than 1 cubic yard of dirt is to be excavated.
As part of the ongoing EPA oversight of the former Superfund area, federal officials were in town in the spring for their five-year review, investigating local compliance with the 1995 settlement that helped remove the area from the list of dangerous hazardous waste sites. It was listed from 1986 until 1999.
“The initial results of the five-year review indicate that the site is protective of human health and the environment,” says the EPA’s report, issued this summer. It found that the city and county governments were meeting their obligations in enforcing rules related to soil excavation and other issues.
However, the feds felt that the five-year frequency of the reminder sent to property owners about the area’s status wasn’t enough. The local governments will now send the notice once a year, every spring, city and county officials have agreed.
The Smuggler Superfund saga began in the early 1980s, when county officials thought it would be a good idea to tap into the new Superfund program, which potentially offered federal money for environmental clean-ups. However, once the feds got involved, many came to curse the day they were invited to town, said Tom Dunlop, who was the city-county environmental health director at the time.
“It came with huge amounts of strings attached and legal obligations that carried on for the next 10 to 20 years,” Dunlop said of the federal involvement. “It was a very dramatic event for the community.”
Debates raged throughout the era about the best way to deal with the contaminated soils present on the site, and eventually, much of the area was capped and revegetated. The Superfund designation included two separate areas — the 25 acres around the Smuggler Mine itself, and the 300 acres of mostly residential development surrounding the mine.
The eventual settlement set forth that anyone seeking to disturb more than 1 cubic yard of soil within the site boundary must get a special permit. The excavated soil has to be used for backfill on site, or taken to a special hazardous waste area at the landfill.
Other regulations are in place, including a requirement that any vegetable garden must be planted in at least 12 inches of clean soil.
More information about the area, and the regulations related to the Superfund era, can be found at www.aspenpitkin.com/departments/environmental-health/smuggler-superfund-... .