County will let site reopen for disposal of drilling water

Black Mountain Disposal about to change hands

By LE ROY STANDISH

Nearly a year after the Mesa County Commission shut down Black Mountain Disposal, the commission opened the door for a new owner to revive the operation.

The commission Tuesday approved a series of conditions that would bind the facility’s prospective new owner, Jefferson Been, to a compliance plan that would allow the facility to reopen in a limited capacity once the sale is final.

The plan lays out a timeline for the facility to be cleaned and requires a fund to cover final closure costs. It allows for only one evaporation pond — the newest one, which has a synthetic liner — to be opened at first. The others must be relined and comply with state law before they can be reopened.

Black Mountain Disposal, 15655 45 1/2 Road, is just south of De Beque. Before the site was closed, it was a place for natural-gas drillers to deposit water used in their production process.  The water was filtered and allowed to evaporate in holding ponds. The residue was then hauled to a landfill.

The facility had a major leak from one of its evaporation ponds in 2001. For years, the current owners fought the state and the county, refusing to do studies that would show what spilled, how much spilled and the extent of the plume.

Mesa County eventually took action and closed the facility in September 2008, revoking a conditional-use permit and certificates of designation for the facility.

Tuesday, the commission accepted a solution hammered out by Been, Mesa County, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.

The sale of Black Mountain Disposal is scheduled to close “no later than Sept. 28,” according to a county project review of the facility.

“However, if the facility is allowed, or conditionally allowed to begin accepting waste, the sale may close in late August,” the review said.

Been hired Walsh Environmental to determine the extent of the spill that occurred in 2001.

Ed Baltzer, manager of Walsh’s Western Slope office, said there are elevated levels of benzene on the property. He produced a map showing how far the plume of benzene, an ingredient of produced water, extended. His initial study shows that none of the chemical has migrated off the property.

The state health department has litigation pending against the outgoing operator of Black Mountain, Elaine Wells. The trial, in Mesa County Court, was delayed in April, pending the facility’s sale. According to Mesa County, the preliminary injunction hearing is set to resume Aug. 27. The case against Wells will be moot if the sale closes.

Wells is facing no penalties. She is selling Black Mountain Disposal and 80 acres to the east of the facility to Been. No sale price was disclosed, but according to the Mesa County Assessor’s Office, Black Mountain’s 35 acres and improvements have been assessed a total actual value of $201,680, and the 80 acres abutting Black Mountain to the east has an assessed total actual value of $112,000. The assessed total actual value is a value arrived at by the assessor’s office by comparing actual sales of similar properties in the area.


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