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Posted: November 01, 2008

The good, the bad and the ugly

Superfund sites in Colorado

Eric Peterson

Brownfield redevelopment success stories:

Taxi, Denver
At a cleaned-up, former taxicab facility, the mixed-use Phase II is done, but further development depends upon negotiations with RTD, which wants to build a maintenance building
on adjacent land.

River Point, Sheridan
The new retail development required remediation from its location on a former landfill.

Dahlia Square, Denver
A landfill below the property and dry cleaners were the culprits for contamination, but the cleanup was finished in late 2006, with costs exceeding the property’s value. Construction is now under way on a medical clinic, and homes are planned for the future.

Oak Creek
The gambling town for coal miners more than a century ago was concerned about some sludge piles from water treatment with low-level naturally occurring radioactivity. "We arranged some technical assistance to the get the assessments done," said Jesse Silverstein, executive director of the Littleton-based Colorado Brownfields Foundation. "We found nothing to keep somebody from building on it."

Idalia Court, Aurora
The former landfill’s cleanup was funded when CBF nabbed a $200,000 grant to make a parcel into a park. "(The owner) was about $300,000 upside-down on it," Silverstein says. "We left him with a $100,000 gap, which we’re able to fill in from other various places." Now the site is ready for an adjacent housing development once market conditions are more favorable.

The historic Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Depot was polluted by a witches’ brew of creosote, arsenic and agricultural chemicals. The CBF donated $10,000 of technical assistance and arranged for $30,000 more from the state, clearing the way to make the old depot into a new community center. The next phase is under way, making the surrounding two acres into a park.

A methamphetamine lab polluted a residence, and the contaminated property went into foreclosure. "We had taken title of it from the bank" in 2007, the CBF’s Silverstein says. "The bank donated to us. It required a complete teardown including asbestos remediation."

The CBF transferred it to an affordable housing program at a below-market price, and a single-family project was built. Nonetheless, Silverstein thinks this project might be just the beginning of meth-related brownfields.

"I think there are probably hundreds like this," he says. "I think they are probably just hidden and unknown. They can disappear into the system."

Remediation in progress
In Denver, beyond Shattuck, the former Gates property is another high-profile compromised property now seeing ongoing cleanup and residential construction.

Remediation is also currently under way on 2.5 acres at 10th Avenue and Osage Street where Denver Brownfields Coordinator Stacey Eriksen anticipates "some mix of affordable housing and market-rate housing and mixed-use development"

Approved but not yet under way, Battle Mountain, Bobby Ginn’s resort in Minturn, involves reclaiming 350 acres of the Eagle Mine site, for a ski and golf development.

Wheat Ridge 2020, a nonprofit redevelopment initiative, had an issue with a questionable site in the Wadsworth Urban Renewal District, so the CBF helped the organization with funding to clear environmental regulations. Wheat Ridge 2020 is currently reviewing a proposal for mixed-use development.

Problem sites
Many of Colorado’s 20 Superfund sites are the result of nasty legacies left by the mining industry. Among them, the California Gulch Superfund site in Leadville, which made headlines this year when concerns arose that runoff could cause a tunnel to rupture and release a flood of toxic water, remains among the biggest environmental problems in the state. Among the others, there is the relatively new Superfund site in Creede, relating to acidic drainage from another mine.

Straddling the Adams-Denver county line, the Asarco site has been another prominent problem site.

"Asarco cleaned up the residential properties surrounding it, but they didn’t clean up the commercial properties, and they only did a little bit of cleanup on the site itself," said Stacey Eriksen, an EPA staffer working with the city of Denver. "Then they declared bankruptcy. It needs a lot of public funding to make it a go."

Today it is still in the hands of the bankruptcy courts, with a potential buyer trying to work through the legal and financial issues.

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Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at

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