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11:33 PM Tue, Sept. 25th

EPA outlines cleanup process for Iron King Mine

DEWEY-HUMBOLDT - Environmental Protection Agency officials confirmed Tuesday that they plan to start preliminary investigation and sampling of Humboldt's Iron King Mine and smelter by next spring as part of their Superfund hazardous waste cleanup for the contaminated areas.

During a work session of the Dewey-Humboldt Town Council, EPA section chief Sheryl Bilbrey said once the agency lists the sites, it will take at least a year to determine the location and extent

of the contaminants, including arsenic and lead, in the nearby soil, groundwater, drinking water and air.

"We plan to take samples in spring 2008," EPA Project Manager Leah Butler said. "We will provide a good summary of data, including the kind of contamination and what levels are there. We will follow the contamination wherever it is."

Bilbrey said the EPA will use the samples to establish the geographical boundaries of the contaminants and confirm the locations of the heaviest amounts. The mine sits near the intersection of Highway 69 and Iron King Road, while the smelter rests close to intersection of Third and Main streets.

After it determines the "range of toxicity," the EPA will develop a baseline risk assessment about the potential effects of the contaminants on human health, a project that could last another year.

On Sept. 20, Gov. Janet Napolitano conditionally approved a Superfund listing for the mine and smelter. However, she told the EPA she wanted the feds to pursue privately financed cleanup options before the state would commit to a National Priorities Listing.

Napolitano gave the EPA until Dec. 31 to discuss these options with the sites' landowners.

In this vein, Bilbrey iterated Tuesday that the sites' current owners and operators will pay for as much of the cleanup as they can before the federal government takes care of the difference.

Butler said EPA and Arizona Department of Environmental Quality officials met with Warren Kuhles of Greenfields Enterprises, who owns the smelter site, on Nov. 2 and again on Tuesday.

They discussed initial cleanup plans as well as the historical operations of the defunct smelter, per Napolitano's request.

Butler feels confident the governor will approve the go-ahead on a Superfund listing.

"If things continue to go smoothly, we are looking at spring as the proposal to register (the sites on the NPL)," Butler said. "We've already set aside money (for the cleanup). We're looking for a contractor for the (preliminary) investigation in order to figure out the extent of the contamination."

If and when the governor agrees to the Superfund listing, the EPA would establish a community involvement plan that includes residents, elected officials and businesspeople commenting on the agency's proposed cleanup options.

Residents would have numerous opportunities to look at the EPA's reports on the sites as the process progresses.

The EPA and the town would gather all comments from residents and the council and respond

to any concerns about its cost and timeframe.

"Community involvement occurs throughout (the process)," said Lauren Berkman, an EPA community involvement coordinator who would act as a liaison between the community and the agency. "Once the site formally lists, we will have a kickoff meeting, most likely in March or April."