New ownership in works for troubled wastewater facility

As Elaine Wells listens, right, Jefferson Been, center glances over at Baltzer as the Mesa County Commissioners spell out their recommendation for the Black Mountain Disposal Facility near DeBeque during Tuesday’s hearing at the old Mesa County Courthouse.

Black Mountain Disposal, a commercial, wastewater-disposal facility used by the oil and gas industry south of De Beque, may be under new ownership by July.

One of Black Mountain’s ponds leaked in 2001. Exactly what spilled, how much spilled and an acceptable plan to clean up the mess has yet to be produced by Black Mountain’s current owner, Elaine Wells. The county closed the facility late last year, and the state has taken Black Mountain Disposal to court, demanding it clean whatever spilled.

But new owners may be on the horizon, meaning that if the property sells, cleanup will be the new owner’s responsibility.

On Tuesday, during a review hearing of Black Mountain Disposal’s conditional-use permit and certificates of operation, which the county commission suspended in October, the representative of possible new ownership, Jeffrey Been, said he already hired Walsh Environmental of Grand Junction to start the cleanup process. Been has submitted a letter of intent to the county indicating he represents people who want to buy Black Mountain Disposal.

“I have signed a contract to buy the assets of Black Mountain Disposal, and in that contract I have been appointed seller’s agent,” Been wrote in the letter.

The County Commission ruled the facility should remain closed, and it scheduled another hearing in 30 to 90 days to get an update on the progress of the sale and the cleanup.

Been said after the meeting the deal to acquire Black Mountain Disposal is far from done.

“The whole thing could fall through if the conditions are not met,” Been said.

As a show of good faith, Been introduced the commissioners to Ed Blatzer from Walsh Environmental Scientists and Engineers, of Grand Junction. Blatzer said his firm has started analyzing the problems associated with Black Mountain’s 46 acres.

He said some of the clay ponds, where wastewater is pooled in order to evaporate, may be leaking. He said artificial liners, as are now required by state law for newly permitted wastewater facilities, could fix the problem.

But contaminants may have escaped already, said Donna Ross, director of development services and the code enforcement division for Mesa County.

“The plume may have gone off site,” Ross said.

No one knows for sure because Wells has not done scientifically acceptable tests, according to the state and county. When Wells was called to the podium and asked about her facility, she complained that she has been unable to make a living because the facility is closed.

She said the state health department is not forthcoming with her, and she has provided “everything” regulators have ever asked for.

The commissioners were left scratching their heads, because in eight years since the initial leak, Black Mountain has failed to provide much of what was requested by the county, including a plan for how it would determine the size of the plume, how to clean the spill and how to monitor the area.

Commissioner Craig Meis told Wells it was a good thing she showed up with a potential buyer. “Otherwise, we would be revoking the (conditional-use permit),” he said.

If the deal to buy Black Mountain falls through, the commission would be back to considering a permanent revocation of the facility’s permit. But that might mean the county gets stuck with a massive cleanup bill.

“The financial assurance is not adequate (for proper cleanup),” Ross said.


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