Soil contamination work progresses in Pueblo superfund neighborhood

Posted at 11:07 PM, Sep 10, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-11 01:07:37-04

PUEBLO, Colorado — Neighbors living on Eilers Avenue in Pueblo aren't shy about saying what they think of the superfund clean up.

"It's been a mess," said John Wilson, who laughed when asked the question.

His nextdoor neighbor Anita Clemens joked it's been a 'nightmare on Eilers Street.'

The Environmental Protection Agency identified more than 800 individual properties in this neighborhood as having elevated levels of lead contamination in the soil. The pollution is believed to have come from the Colorado Smelter, a silver and lead smelting business in the neighborhood that closed in 1908.

Since January of last year, contract crews supervised by the Army Corps of Engineers have been systematically removing between 12 and 24 inches of soil from the affected properties and replacing it with clean dirt. Any grass, rock, fencing or other landscaping damaged or removed during the clean up is replaced.

The homeowners interviewed by News 5 say it's the way that the work crews are going about their business that has been the most frustrating.

"When they sunk the holes to check for contamination they hit my gas line," Wilson said.

The excavators and other machinery used to dig up the soil damaged a concrete sidewalk in his backyard, chipped the cinderblock wall of his detached garage and scrapped his roof over his front porch.

The work crew repaved the sidewalk Wilson said his roofer was already working on a hail claim and repaired the damage.

A large part of Clemens backyard is paved with ashphalt and she let the crews park their equipment on her property while they were working in Wilson's yard. She said the damaged concrete that was removed from Wilson's yard was temporarily dumped in her yard causing a low spot to form on the pavement that now fills with water during a rain storm.

Among her many frustrations was being overlooked for soil testing and mitigation.

"They actually sat there on my porch with me and said, oh I'm sorry, you're one of the people that we forgot," Clemens said.

Farther south, Abrina Wilder is waiting for a damaged electrical line to be repaired that services her detached garage.

"The first dig they did, the line went down," she said. "They haven't come back to fix it, it's been I think two months."

Sabrina Forrest, the EPA Project Manager, said the soil clean up has been completed on 144 of the properties since early last year. Many were finished without complaint.

"The vast majority of these clean ups have gone really, really well," Forrest said.

"We're just always going to have folks that things maybe don't go as well and I apologize for that, We really just are trying to turn those things around."

Forrest noted that the original timeline for the clean up was expected to last 15 years. However, the EPA's Regional Administrator was able to get the funding level doubled so that Forrest now has a goal of finishing by 2023.

She encourages homeowners to call or visit their office at 125 E. Abriendo Avenue on weekdays to get issues resolved quickly. The group also holds montly meetings and has set up an email list-serve to respond to issues submitted over the internet.