Friday, April 17, 2009

Group unveils plans to clean up mines

DeNovo Properties wants to develop part of 848-acre parcel south of Sun Valley

Express Staff Writer

Co-founder and CEO of DeNovo Properties Brian Pitkin, presents the company’s plans at an open house Wednesday.

If all goes according to plan, land in East Fork contaminated by silver mining operations could look a lot different come October.

The cleanup operation is being conducted by DeNovo Independence, an affiliate of DeNovo Properties, a Chicago- and Indianapolis-based firm that purchases and then restores "damaged" land. The project is in partnership the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.

At issue is a plan to clean up—and develop with homesites—an 848-acre parcel of land near Triumph.

Long-range plans call for annexing part of the property into the city of Sun Valley.

At a public open house Wednesday, Douglas Morell, a mediation specialist and consultant for DeNovo, presented the company's plan. The document outlines the risks associated with the contaminated area as well as the proposed actions.

Current levels of arsenic and lead are as high as 6,120 parts per million (ppm) and 48,600 ppm, respectively. The company's remediation plan aims to reduce arsenic and lead levels to as low as 15 ppm and 100 ppm, respectively.

"Most states, like Washington, have standards of 20 ppm for arsenic," said Morell. "Idaho does not have a standard, though Blaine County offers one around 20 to 25 ppm. Our goals are very appropriate for the area."

In total, about 28 acres will be cleaned, resulting in the removal of 110,000 cubic yards of waste. The acquired waste will be sealed away in repositories on-site, taking up a total of 6.5 acres.

DeNovo hopes to begin work on the remediation project as early as mid-May. The company is currently in negotiations with a local contractor and plans to hire as many as 20 to 25 local construction workers. All workers will be required to take 40 hours of training in order to work with hazardous materials. They will also be subject to physical exams before, during and after working in the field.

"It's our job to protect them. Not their job to protect themselves," said Brian Pitkin, co-founder and CEO of DeNovo Properties.

Pitkin said DeNovo plans to finance the entire remediation. When asked what the actual cost of cleanup would be, he declined to say.

"We are uncomfortable disclosing a number," said Pitkin. "Here is what we are comfortable saying: It is confidential, but significant."

So far, reaction to the initial phase of the project has been fairly mild. Residents in attendance at Wednesday's meeting noted two particular areas of concern: air quality and revegetation. DeNovo employees promised careful cleanup procedures including air monitors throughout East Fork. They also promised to use native plants in revegetation.

"You guys aren't gonna get comfortable until this gets done." Pitkin said. "It is complicated by the history around this area, things that we didn't do, but still raise a lot of concern. All we can say is that we have a plan that will enhance the safety of the area. I can just say you're gonna have to trust us, as a lot of this is trust."

DeNovo has been in communication with local environmental groups.

"The Idaho Conservation League supports the cleanup of toxic waste from mines because there is always leaking of those toxins into water and into the soil," said Lynn Kincannon, Central Idaho director of the Idaho Conservation League. "Just for the long-term health of the area and also wildlife, it is great to have that cleaned up, so we support that. As for the long-term project, they'll have to go through the process and that is the time that we or anyone else with concerns about the project can speak up again."

Vanessa Crossgrove-Fry, executive director of Citizens for Smart Growth, concurred.

"As far as working with DeNovo, I don't know if I can say enough positive things as to how much they have reached out to nonprofits. I have been very pleased with them," she said. "We do have concerns. It is a small development, but it is a little remote and we try to have new development be closer to existing infrastructure."

The development plan calls for conserving 85 percent of the 848 acres DeNovo owns in East Fork and the creation of 15 homesites on the site's northern side, just south of the Sun Valley city limit.

DeNovo is requesting that the city of Sun Valley rewrite its comprehensive plan to include a portion of DeNovo's property as part of Sun Valley proper. That section—which totals 251 acres—is the portion that drains into Independence Gulch.

A meeting to discuss the housing development is set for 9 a.m. Thursday, April 23, in the Continental Room of the Sun Valley Inn.

The proposed land remediation plan is subject to public comment through April 24. Comments can be made in writing or online at the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality's Web site. Copies can also be found at The Community Library in Ketchum and the Hailey Public Library. There are also copies at DEQ's offices in Twin Falls and Boise.

"This is an evolving process," Pitkin said. "We've engaged the community as much as we can so far and we will continue to engage you."

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