Superheroes of EPA tailings battle finally get credit for their efforts
Park City’s triple-decade dance with the Environmental Protection Agency would make a great documentary film. The story has just about as much drama and suspense as the David-defeats-Goliath blockbuster, "Erin Brokovich."
Scene 1 opens with a small town teetering between down-and-out economic depression and resort town revival. The town’s last active mine has closed down, Main Street is pocked with boarded up storefronts and a pair of fledgling ski resorts operate one dry winter away from bankruptcy. There are, however, hints of optimism about the town’s future. A handful of developers have begun platting new residential subdivisions and the ski areas seem to be gaining in popularity.
In Scene 2, though, we meet the bureaucratic bully who is threatening to toss the community’s dreams in the tailings pile. The Environmental Protection Agency threatens to put the spirited little ski town on the Superfund List of environmental cleanup sites a potential death knell for the up-and-coming real estate market.
As the film unfolds, a scrappy City Council and a tough-as-nails building official refuse to accept the EPA’s sentence. There are cries of foul play, political intrigue and accusations of a cover-up. But in the end, a plan is devised to save the town and cap the potentially harmful mine tailings and avoid the list.
The final scene of this drama wrapped last week. Recently, Park City received word that the EPA was preparing to move Park City’s file to the archives, a sign that the agency considers the case closed.
The announcement proves several things. Primarily, it demonstrates how a small government with smart, proactive leadership can sometimes tackle a problem more quickly and efficiently than a federal agency. It also indicates that the soils-improvement plan designed and implemented by city officials has been effective.
Though residents in the neighborhoods most affected by leftovers from Park City’s mining era are no longer faced with the health or economic risks they once had to deal with, the EPA’s sign-off still offers a comforting measure of closure. For that they can thank that stubborn building official, Ron Ivie, and a long list of supporting characters who have served on the Park City Council and on the city staff.
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