EPA completes long-running probe
In a historic decision lauded by City Hall, the EPA this month informed the local government that it is finished with its investigation into Prospector, a probe that stretched since the 1980s and remained a neighborhood stigma since then.
The decision was expected and the EPA as recently as January indicated that it was finalizing the administrative work needed to clear Prospector from federal oversight.
Peggy Churchill, the Denver-based EPA staffer assigned to Park City, on Feb. 8 wrote Mayor Dana Williams a letter outlining the agency’s decision. The EPA agreed to ‘archive’ what is known as the Silver Creek Tailings Site, with its boundaries in Prospector. By doing so, the EPA acknowledged that "no further Superfund work is anticipated at the Site," according to Churchill’s letter.
Superfund is the EPA’s notorious list of cleanup sites. Prospector in 1985 was listed in a pre-Superfund database but the neighborhood was never put on the Superfund list.
"I think it is probably one of the biggest things in the last decade to happen in Park City," said Mayor Dana Williams, a Prospector resident.
Prospector contained lead-contaminated soil left over from Park City’s silver-mining heritage, spurring the investigation.
City Hall won the archive designation 18 years after creating the so-called ‘soils ordinance,’ a law that regulates landscaping in Prospector that was adopted in response to the EPA’s investigation.
Under the ordinance, property owners are required to cover their yards with six inches of topsoil if the lead content of the land exceeded 1,000 parts per million in a process known as ‘capping.’
"EPA recognizes that (City Hall) and the local community have been dedicated to creating and maintaining an institutional control program that will protect Prospector residents for many years to come," Churchill wrote in the Feb. 8 letter.
Churchill indicated that there are about 25 properties within the boundaries of the soils ordinance that must comply with the rules. She wrote that compliance is necessary in the next two years.
By archiving the neighborhood, the EPA turns over enforcement of the ordinance to City Hall and Williams expects that the local government will provide the EPA with progress reports.
The EPA’s decision is especially notable for Ron Ivie, City Hall’s chief building official, whose department oversees the soils ordinance. He credits people who live in Prospector for putting the topsoil on their yards.
"It makes me feel like having a drink with the mayor as soon as we have time," Ivie said.
He noted that City Hall must continue enforcing the ordinance and warned that several other locations in Park City could be placed on the Superfund listing.
Williams credits Ivie for lots of the work and said Jeff Schoenbacher, the city’s environmental specialist, is also due accolades. He said people in Prospector should be proud of the "individual effort by individual homeowners."
Williams has said it could cost as much as $15,000 to cap a property.
The Park Record was unable to contact Churchill. In a January interview with the newspaper, when the EPA said it was preparing to finalize the work, Churchill praised City Hall’s work in Prospector, including the soils ordinance.
"They should be excited. They’ve helped to develop one of the most highly regarded institutional-control programs in the country," she said in January.
The City Hall-EPA relationship has seemed cordial since the late 1990s, when the agency revisited its original 1980s work. In the 1980s, though, there was well-publicized consternation between the two regarding the investigation.
In the more recent round of probing, the agency researched the complete Silver Creek watershed, stretching from Empire Canyon to Richardson Flats, not exclusively Prospector.
Williams, who took office in 2002 and was sworn in to a second term in January, said his administration was more aggressive in the environmental work than that of previous mayors who dealt with the issue.
"I do not think City Hall’s position was facilitating the archival process," Williams said.
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