So long, EPA: neighbors throw party
Sally Elliott strides through a vacant lot on Annie Oakley Drive wearing a badge that identifies her as, "Not an EPA Inspector," not that anyone gathered on Saturday would mistake her for one.
Elliott, a Democratic Summit County Commissioner who lives on Sidewinder Drive, was with a crowd of her neighbors for a cookout to mark the completion of the Environmental Protection Agency’s long-running investigation into the effects of Park City’s silver-mining heritage on the neighborhood.
Miners once extracted silver and other metals from the mountains ringing Park City and lots of the leftover contaminated material was dumped in Prospector, which then was not as populated nor a neighborhood. Poison Creek, which runs through Prospector, and soils had been worrisome to environmental officials for years.
In 1985, the EPA listed Prospector in a database of places considered for the agency’s notorious Superfund designation but the neighborhood was never declared a Superfund site as the agency accepted City Hall’s cleanup plans.
"Twenty-eight years ago, the rest of Park City knew our neighborhood as ‘the sand dunes,’ where finely ground rock was sent when all the silver, lead and zinc had been extracted. Well, most of the lead, anyway," Elliott tells the neighbors, reading from prepared remarks. "And that’s why we’re here tonight, to celebrate the end of a long, meaningful relationship with the EPA."
The EPA’s decision earlier in 2006 to finish its probe through a procedure known as ‘archiving’ was anticipated for some time and the Saturday event, rather than one of serious scientific discussions, was a party for neighbors.
Mayor Dana Williams’ band played and the people who stopped by were upbeat, still happy with the earlier EPA announcement. There is a feeling in Prospector that the end of the probe could lead to a boost in real-estate values and release the neighborhood, perhaps Park City’s most diverse, from what has been seen by many as an environmental stigma.
"The neighborhood has been through 23 years of uncertainty. It affects property values. People were nervous about the health of their children," says Williams, who has lived in Prospector for 16 years.
The organizers touted Saturday as a way to celebrate the neighborhood’s "status as an ‘EPA-free Zone,’ in a flier announcing the event. Before the Park City Council earlier in July approved a permit for the event, City Hall staffers described it as a "long time-coming monumental accomplishment."
The EPA’s investigation stretched over three decades, starting in the 1980s, when the agency’s presence in Park City and its desire to test the blood of kids for lead levels troubled lots of Parkites. In the late 1990s, though, EPA investigators returned and, in the second round of probing, the agency-City Hall relationship was more cordial, with the agency researching the entire Silver Creek watershed, not Prospector on its own.
Meanwhile, the local government launched a soils program that required people 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.’
The program, EPA and City Hall officials say, has been a success, with about 300 properties being covered with the topsoil and an estimated less than 26 still requiring the cap.
The Saturday event drew a diverse crowd of older people and young families with their kids. A cadre of public officials attended, including members of the Park City Council and Bob Richer, another Summit County Commissioner.
Nancy Pinnell, who moved to Sidewinder Drive in December, brought her daughter, 4 1/2-year-old Vivian, to celebrate. Pinnell says she still has misgivings about the environmental legacy in Prospector, though.
"Being new to the neighborhood, I still have a little uncertainty about it," she says, calling Prospector, an "incredible neighborhood."
She says, for example, that the spokes on a stroller she stores in a crawl space at her house became rotted while the stroller was in storage.
"I think it’s safe but you have to be cautious," Pinnell says.
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