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Home / Articles / News / News /  City: Valmont Butte cleanup is finally complete
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Thursday, February 20,2014

City: Valmont Butte cleanup is finally complete

The City of Boulder has officially declared that the cleanup of its contaminated Valmont Butte property is finished — and city officials are hoping the state health department agrees.

By Jefferson Dodge

The remediation of the 103-acre parcel, which the city purchased in 2001, began in early 2012 and was expected to be completed in December of that year at a cost of $5 million, an amount the city was splitting with Honeywell, which had acquired a company partially responsible for years of contamination at the site.

But in November 2012, the city announced that the project was more than $1.4 million over budget and would not be completed until early 2013.

That would have been a year ago. The Valmont cleanup, which was the subject of a 10-part series in Boulder Weekly that won a second-place award for investigative reporting from the national Association for Alternative Newsmedia in 2013, has not suffered further cost overruns, according to city spokesperson Mike Bańuelos, despite the additional delay.

The project has been plagued with controversy over the years, including when city officials came under fire in May 2012 for removing what representatives of the adjacent Valmont Cemetery said could have been an historic grave marker.

Despite the travails, an “environmental completion report” prepared by city consultant Casey Resources Inc. was issued on Jan. 15 and submitted to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) for approval. But it was not posted on the city’s website until Feb. 18, after BW inquired about it.

The report details the findings of the two-year remediation project and documents the various ways that the city has contained, removed or otherwise addressed the contaminants found at the property. It asks the CDPHE for a “no action determination” at the parcel — essentially a blessing that the city and Honeywell have fulfilled their obligations to remediate the property under the terms of their “voluntary cleanup plan,” an avenue that the Environmental Protection Agency has allowed states to pursue, reducing bureaucratic oversight and costs.

In its environmental completion report, the city acknowledges that it found unanticipated contamination. Numerous buried drums were found — city officials say most were empty and were buried in the primary tailings pond, which was covered with two feet of clean soil and 18 inches of rock (primarily to keep prairie dogs from burrowing and unearthing contaminated dirt). Eight of the drums containing solids or liquids were shipped off for incineration at out-of-state facilities; three drums filled with concrete, which is often used to solidify radioactive waste, showed radiation levels at or below background and were buried in the primary tailings pond, according to the report.

Other unexpected discoveries that the city had to deal with included a vehicle grease and oil change pit, an underground storage tank near one of the buildings near the historic mill, a section of soil tainted by lead and a tarlike substance, and a pipe wrapped in asbestos-laden insulation.

The report states that while groundwater, which was a primary focus of the BW investigation, was not encountered during the remediation, monitoring wells at the site showed that levels of contaminants like selenium and uranium exceeded state and federal standards. But the report dismisses the discovery of these levels, saying they were consistent with or less than the results of similar testing done in 2004.

On at least one occasion, an area that was scheduled to be remediated was left alone because a Native American cultural monitor identified it as “culturally sensitive.”

Three structures not initially expected to be demolished were removed, according to the report. It says possible commercial/industrial uses of the land in the future include “equipment and maintenance storage, energy generation, a historical mining museum or commercial use in the former mill area, and open space for preservation of certain natural features and vistas.”

Kate Lemon, a spokesperson for the CDPHE, says her department has reviewed the report and “will approve the VCUP application within the next week or two.” She adds that the next step in the process is to work with the city to finalize an environmental covenant for the property.

Inspections of the environmental status of the property will be conducted annually, the report says. The full text can be found at http://bit.ly/1jQ1PeN.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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