Department of Justice sues United Park City Mines for cleanup costs
The Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against United Park City Mines, the modern-day successor to Park City’s historic silver-mining industry, claiming the firm owes the federal government nearly $900,000 for cleanup work in the Silver Creek corridor.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, claims United Park City Mines owes the Environmental Protection Agency $848,797.57 plus interest and owes the Bureau of Land Management $46,814.41 plus interest. The EPA bills were amassed between 2014 and 2017 while the BLM bills date to between 2014 and 2018. It also charges that UPCM did not perform work that it agreed to pursue in 2014 as part of a settlement with the federal government.
The Department of Justice wants a magistrate judge to declare United Park City Mines is liable since it was the owner and operator at the time of the disposal of the mine tailings. It also wants a $50,000 judgment, plus interest, against United Park City Mines as a penalty after the EPA took over the work.
The case centers on Richardson Flat close to Quinn’s Junction, one of the locations where tailings taken from the silver mines eventually settled. Richardson Flat is part of the Silver Creek watershed, and the EPA and City Hall have for decades been concerned about the danger of the tailings to the watershed. The lawsuit says the tailings contained metals like arsenic, lead, zinc and cadmium. Silver Creek as well as its tributaries brought the tailings down the stream corridor, depositing the tailings throughout the Park City-area watershed, the lawsuit says.
The Department of Justice claims tailings remain along a stretch of Silver Creek covering six miles. In some places, the tailings are nine or more feet deep, the lawsuit says, estimating there are between 1.5 million cubic yards and 2.6 million cubic yards of tailings that are contaminated along the Silver Creek corridor. The arsenic concentrations are up to 10,308 times the EPA’s level for residential uses while the lead concentrations are 124 times the level, the Department of Justice claims. Surface water and groundwater showed elevated levels of contaminants, the lawsuit outlines.
“At the time UPCM and its predecessors operated or owned the facilities, as result of the mining, milling, and processing of its ores, it disposed of tons of tailing containing cadmium, zinc, arsenic, lead and other metals into . . . Silver Creek, tributaries to Silver Creek, mountainsides and other surface areas that drained to Silver Creek and its tributaries, and conveyance ditches leading to Richardson Flat,” the lawsuit says.
It says the tailings from United Park City Mines locations ended up downstream at Richardson Flat.
Park City was founded in the 19th century as a silver-mining camp, and the mining industry drove the economy through the middle of the 20th century. As the silver-mining industry collapsed, the rise of skiing led Park City out from economic disaster. The environmental legacy of the silver-mining industry, though, has hung over the community for decades, prompting long-running interest in Park City by the EPA.
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