June 6, 2014
For nearly 40 years the abandoned Ore Knob Mine in the Laurel Springs community was a ticking environmental time bomb.
In 2007, the former copper mine detonated, but not in the literal sense. When a sediment holding pond’s dam failed, its collapse sent dangerous concentrations of heavy metals, created during the mining process, spilling into the abandoned shafts, eventually leaching into the drinking water wells of surrounding homes.
Since that time, the unlucky homeowners in the area of the mine have endured a situation that most of us can’t even begin to comprehend – pumping contaminated water into their homes and using treatment systems to clean it for daily use.
Since the spill, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been monitoring the site and providing mitigation services to the homeowners affected by the spill. The federal agency has paid for those in-home treatment systems.
Recently, EPA representatives asked the Town of Jefferson to consider allowing them to tap into the town’s water supply, to extend a waterline approximately nine miles from the town’s water treatment facility to the Ore Knob Mine community to supply homeowners with potable water.
But there’s a big price tag - $12 million in taxpayer dollars to provide water for 13 homes, which was the number used by the EPA. However, we’ve heard there may be as many as 30 homeowners who could be impacted by the groundwater contamination.
Thirteen or 30, that is still a lot of money - $923,000 per property at 13 and $400,000 per property for 30.
Are those 30 homes and families (and we’ll err on the larger number) worth spending $12 million to provide them clean, safe water?
Simply put, yes.
Should taxpayers foot the bill? Unfortunately, we don’t have much choice.
The last owner/operator of the mine and the one who may have borne the responsibility for its clean up, Nipissing Mines, Ltd., of Toronto, Canada, has been out of business for decades.
When the property was sold in the early 1960s to a group of investors, the idea of contaminated groundwater was still not completely understood as a future potential problem. Tracking down those investors and asking them to pay for a problem for which they had no reasonable knowledge of future liability is not practical.
As it is, there is really no one group or corporation that might be financially responsible for the clean up.
That leaves it up to the American taxpayer.
But the question still remains; is a water line extension from Jefferson to Ore Knob the best use of taxpayer dollars?
At first glance, it would seem wiser to simply offer buyouts to the homeowners. It is not unprecedented for the EPA to offer buyouts to individual property owners.
However, there is another perspective. Extending water lines into new communities can be considered economic development. Is it possible extending water lines into Laurel Springs could provide some economic development benefit? Perhaps.
The EPA has offered its solution on how to provide those property owners safe water.
Is it the right choice?