She’s Not Gonna Blow!

For a couple of weeks we were warned that Colorado’s historic old mountain mining city of Leadville was doomed, about to be obliterated by some kind of Raging River of Toxic Death.This week, respected Rocky Mountain News reporter Todd Hartman detailed the impending disaster-emergency – and concluded, after talking to a multitude of sources, the story appears to actually be an overblown and well-planned publicity stunt of sorts by state Sen. Tom Wiens, a Republican from Castle Rock, along with Lake County commissioners.

The four, Hartman reports, spent days planning the “emergency” announcement, including setting up a self-serving multimedia Web site,

As Westword’s Michael Roberts has pointed out, “no one’s denying that something’s rotten in that Leadville mine tunnel; the only debate is over the time clean-up crews have to tackle the problem.”

In other words, yes, there is a billion gallons of toxic water trapped in the partially blocked Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel. But plenty of skeptics are now saying the threat that some type of explosion of toxic waste would envelop the city and consume the Arkansas River, tainting drinking water downstream, is overblown.

But in their declaration of impending catastrophic emergency, Wiens & Co. certainly got help, including from U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, whose district includes Leadville. On Feb. 22, Lamborn went straight to the top, sending a letter to President Bush warning of the “pending national disaster” and asking the president himself to intervene.

In part, Lamborn’s letter to Bush includes the following:

“It is imperative that this water be safely removed before a catastrophic event releases this water into the Arkansas River. The Bureau of Reclamation’s unwillingness to demonstrate responsible ownership by taking immediate action to clear the tunnel and process the trapped water is unacceptable.

“The problem faced by the people of Lake County did not happen overnight. A pattern of bureaucratic neglect over a period of several decades has led us to the potential crisis we face today. This situation can be remedied, but it will take immediate action. Your intervention in this matter will prevent a local issue from becoming a national disaster.”

The letter, along with many videos featuring Wiens, can be read in full at, yes, Wiens’ Website,

Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential and a columnist and contributing editor at The Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at

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Cara Degette

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