RIO GRANDE COUNTY — Summitville has been a hot topic for the past two years after Rio Grande County officially finalized a land swap involving the Environmental Protection Agency, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Rio Grande National Forest.
Rio Grande County Commissioner John Noffsker has taken the lead on the Summitville project and is working with his fellow commissioners to date to try and figure out the best way to utilize the land while keeping it safe.
About two years ago, while negotiations were still underway with all the key organizations sitting at the table, Noffsker negotiated better terms for Rio Grande County and got more land out of the deal than was previously proposed. Now the question remains — what do to with the land?
“We have a lot of land up there that we can do a lot with but it’s figuring out exactly what we want to do with it,” Noffsker said. “We have some ideas on the table, one of which is a proposal for a remote RV park on private land that will take a lot of consideration on our part but there is also the rest of it that needs to be protected and preserved while still allowing people to go up there and enjoy the historic site.”
The purpose of the land transfer was to minimize the larger footprint of the superfund site and allow Rio Grande County, who took possession of the property after the mine went bankrupt, to use it as they saw fit. When a land survey was done five years ago, it was determined that the RGNF had several small pieces of property contained in the original Summitville site and through the combined efforts of the county and RGNF it was decided to consolidate the land into one large piece in exchange for other county property that bordered RGNF land further east.
The original proposal was to exchange about 70 acres of county land outside of the Summitville area for 70 acres of Forest land within the area but due to a change in the board at the time of the final negotiations, Noffsker renegotiated the terms with the Forest Service and the final agreement was for 42 acres of county land and 72 acres of Forest Service land.
Though the commissioners signed the final agreement with the Forest and EPA, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a delay in the announcement of the accomplishment. Commissioners were hopeful that a celebratory event would be possible by the fall but due to the current circumstances felt it was necessary to announce the finalization land exchange but hold off on a celebration until the public would be able to join them in their celebration.
The Summitville site is still classified as a superfund site by the EPA, but EPA officials will be working closely with the county to ensure that they can utilize the land and the historical areas throughout the site in the most efficient way possible.
The hope is to open the area as much as possible to the public and to recreational opportunities that would in turn help preserve and protect the historical significance of the area.
“We still have a lot of red tape from the EPA that will prohibit some of the suggestions coming to us but there is always a compromise somewhere. We just have to be sure to take the time to consider our options,” Noffsker said.