Summit County is forming a subcommittee to tackle a request by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to discontinue the county's soil contamination voluntary clean-up program, VCUP.
The EPA has identified several contaminated sites in the Silver Creek area, including the Richardson Flat Tailings site; Lower Silver Creek - 400 acres from U.S. 40 to interstate 80; the Middle Reach - 836 acres below Park City and 720 acres along the Silver Creek flood plain; and Prospector Drain, an underground pipe running through Prospector Square and Prospector Park that discharges into wetlands. The sites cover areas in both the city and the county.
Since most of the contamination is a result of mine and mill waste, United Park City Mines, acquired by Talisker Corp. in 2003, is being held responsible by the EPA for contamination cleanup. However, the county has allowed developers to voluntarily clean up their properties, as long as either the EPA or the Utah Department of Environmental Quality signs off on it afterwards.
"We want to give them a chance to clean it up because I don't know how long it's going to take for United Park City Mines to do it," Deputy Summit County Attorney Jami Brackin said.
However, a formal letter sent to the city in February by the EPA indicated it wanted the county to discontinue the state-supervised VCUP program.
"They said the clean-up standards under a VCUP may be different than what the EPA wants them to clean up," Brackin said. "And if a property owner comes in under a VCUP, the EPA is afraid United Park City Mines is going to say, 'We don't have to do anything. We're not responsible anymore because they already cleaned it up on their own."
"It sounds like the EPA won't stop us from continuing the VCUP, but it leaves the developer with a feeling that they fixed something, when in fact the EPA may come back and say, 'You still own this property, and by the way, you've either got to allow United Park City Mines to come here and clean it up or you've got to clean it up to our standards,'" Councilmember Roger Armstrong said.
County Manager Bob Jasper said he doesn't think the county has enough information to make a decision.
"It's hard to know whether to go this way or that without any timetables," he said. "We don't know when Talisker is supposed to start the cleanup. In my mind, it doesn't make a ton of sense to do any cleanup until Park City fixes the drain, because we're just going to re-pollute. We don't know what requirements the EPA has on Park City and what their plans are to fix the drain, and we don't know when they'll require Talisker to get going."
Jasper added that the contamination issue is a major dilemma for the county.
"Part of the council's Strategic Plan is to master plan these properties, but we can't begin master planning where development goes or doesn't go until we get a rough sense of what the timetable is," he said.
According to Brackin, the EPA offered to come to the county to discuss the issue, but Councilmember Chris Robinson said it would not be solved in one meeting.
"I'd like to see two members of the council, Roger and myself, be appointed to a subcommittee to work with Park City, the EPA, Talisker and whomever else, to figure this out and make a policy recommendation," he said. "If we just remove the VCUP, we're leaving it up to others if and when that will ever be cleaned up. I'd rather see us proactive to getting a role in setting that timeline and those conditions."