For the week of February 24, 1999  thru March 2, 1999  

Triumph cleanup nears end

Overlay district proposed for site

Express Staff Writer

The Triumph Mine cleanup saga and its suspected health risks to Triumph residents, as well as impacts on property values in the area, may finally be in its last stages.

However, an ongoing cleanup program—along with a proposal to label the mine property as an overlay district—must be concluded before the controversy is put to rest.

In 1992, the Environmental Protection Agency considered listing the area as a federal Superfund cleanup site.

Landowners in the area protested the listing, claiming there was no contamination problem.

Persistence by the EPA to locate and prove a potential toxic hazard led to charges of harassment by Triumph residents and claims that the EPA was a bureaucracy gone berserk.

The listing was re-evaluated after extensive testing of water and soil in the area, along with tests performed on blood and urine samples taken from Triumph residents, showed that levels of arsenic and other metals were below federally accepted risk standards.

Residents were eventually successful in having coordination of the mine site and town cleanup effort turned over to the state Department of Environmental Quality.

According to Scott Nichols of the Idaho Department of Lands, the cleanup, or "remediation" project, was awarded by the state to contractors McCulley, Fricke and Gillman, and Environcon at a cost of approximately $2 million.

Last fall, the company placed a cap over the tailings and ponds and over some residential areas. The cleanup will continue this spring and is scheduled for completion by fall.

At a Blaine County Planning and Zoning meeting Feb. 12, a preliminary proposal to create an overlay district in Triumph was presented by representatives from ASARCO Mining, which previously worked the site and has been named as a potentially responsible party for the clean up by the EPA.

Attorney Michael Branstetter and ASARCO’s Triumph site manager Chris Pfahl said the proposed Triumph overlay district would be much like a flood plain or avalanche overlay district in concept and operation.

Pfahl said a 12-inch cap of dirt has been placed over contaminated soil, and the goal of the proposed overlay district would be to protect the barrier cap from recontamination.

The overlay district would help guide development proposed on the mine property. The issuance of a building permit within the overlay would require that a property owner comply with special requirements of the overlay district, a report presented by the two men stated.

Pfahl said concentrations of arsenic and other metals above risk standards have not been found in the river or ground water, and that the metals are not migrating from the site.

"If a person were to eat massive quantities of dirt (under the cap), they might be at risk," he said.

Pfahl said the greatest risk would be from blowing dirt, but the cap placed over contaminated soil should alleviate that problem.

Pfahl went on to say that ASARCO Mining has been dealing with Triumph residents for a long time, and everyone is comfortable with what’s going on there.

"After the remediation program is completed the Superfund stigma will be gone; Triumph will be a nice, pretty green place, and folks can go back to life as normal," he said.

Longtime Triumph resident and owner of the mine Rupert House said the EPA’s involvement in the Triumph Mine site was "like beating a dead horse." House said the agency drilled dozens of wells and found nothing nor proved there was any substantial risk.

House also questioned the advantages of the final remediation, saying that the suspected contaminated soil was in a dormant state, wasn’t hurting anyone and could just as well be left alone.


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