DURANGO HERALD 6-28-16 Students take EcoFlight to survey mine

Jun 28, 2016

Colorado College focuses on Western water issues

Students take EcoFlight to survey Gold King from above

Several student researchers and staff with the State of the Rockies Project took an EcoFlight, a program that uses small aircraft to advocate for protecting wildlands and habitat. The Monday flight from Durango was to survey the Gladstone area and Gold King Mine, just north of Silverton. Enlarge photo

Jerry McBride/Durango Herald

Several student researchers and staff with the State of the Rockies Project took an EcoFlight, a program that uses small aircraft to advocate for protecting wildlands and habitat. The Monday flight from Durango was to survey the Gladstone area and Gold King Mine, just north of Silverton.

An annual Colorado College project focusing on issues affecting the Rocky Mountain West is turning its spotlight on the governance of Western water, including the Animas River.

On Monday morning, several student researchers and staff with the State of the Rockies Project took a flight from Durango to survey from above the Gladstone area and Gold King Mine, just north of Silverton.

The aircraft dipped sideways toward a lush, green mountain slope, revealing a view of the mine where 3 million gallons of acid mine drainage gushed last August into Cement Creek and then the Animas and San Juan rivers after an Environmental Protection Agency crew breached the portal.

The pilot, Gary Kraft, routinely takes students, native tribes, environmentalists and other groups up to get a birds-eye view of environmental issues through EcoFlight, a program that uses small aircraft to advocate for protecting wildlands and habitat.

Michael Gorman, EcoFlight program coordinator, said the flights are advantageous to learning about mine drainage issues in the highly mineralized Silverton caldera.

“These flights let people see the land for what it is,” Gorman said. “Everyone gets the same perspective.”

Below the Gold King, passengers could see another pock in the mountainside – a temporary treatment facility catching drainage from the mine.

“I was struck by the scale of it,” said Emelie Frojen, a Colorado College senior. “It’s amazing how small one mine is compared to the scale of the damage.”

The group will meet this week with officials to learn about the Animas-La Plata Project and the U.S. Forest Service’s plans for managing the Hermosa Creek area, and will attend an Animas River Stakeholders Group meeting.

“We try to make complex issues more digestible,” Brendan Boepple, assistant project director, said of the State of the Rockies Project, which produces an annual report on its focus of study.

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