Central City Case Study
Note: EPA no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.
Last Updated April 1999
Clear Creek, Colorado
Contaminated waste rock piles, tailings piles, and mine tunnels as a result of almost 100 years of mining
Casinos, hotels, restaurants, and other amenities
Revitalization of Black Hawk and Central City with local jobs and income, and increased property values and public revenues
On a typical day, the roads leading into Central City and Black Hawk, Colorado, are crowded, as people from miles around converge on these former gold mining towns. Revived by recent Colorado laws that seek to preserve historic mining towns by allowing small stakes gambling, Central City and Black Hawk are undergoing a rebirth and a return to economic prosperity. These two towns were once badly contaminated as a result of past mining operations. EPA and the state, working with local developers and officials, are cleaning up this site for the development of one of Colorado’s largest gambling and recreational areas. With the opening of casinos, restaurants, hotels, and other commercial enterprises, these two towns are regaining some of the wealth and grandeur they enjoyed at the turn of the century. This is the story of how EPA and the state worked with others to return portions of the Central City–Clear Creek Superfund site to productive use, bringing economic impacts and environmental and social benefits to the Counties of Gilpin and Clear Creek.
Site SnapshotThe profitable mining era of the Central City and Black Hawk region began in 1859, when gold was discovered in two Clear Creek tributaries. Soon after, the discovery of silver drew speculators and miners from all over the world. Areas around Central City and Black Hawk became some of the most heavily mined sites in Colorado.
The extensive mining that occurred then brought tremendous wealth to the area, creating many boom towns in Gilpin and Clear Creek Counties. Central City and Black Hawk, only 30 miles west of Denver, benefited greatly from the prosperity.
From Contamination...In 1983, EPA added the Central City–Clear Creek site to its list of hazardous waste sites needing cleanup. Because of wide-spread environmental impacts of mining on the Clear Creek watershed, EPA and the State of Colorado developed a cleanup plan for the 400 square mile Clear Creek drainage basin. EPA and the state worked closely with other state and federal agencies, local governments, and private industry to establish cleanup priorities within the watershed, targeting the most serious mines and discharges for cleanup.
The partnerships established between developers, EPA, and the state facilitated the cleanup of properties prior to the construction of casinos and their support facilities. Casino developers excavated and removed acidic mine tailings and waste rock, stabilized and capped tailings, and removed contamination from the wetlands.
...To CasinosIn 1991, Colorado amended its state constitution to legalize small stakes gaming in the historic mining towns of Central City and Black Hawk, with the goal of revitalizing the depressed local economies. Allowing gambling in these small towns created a market incentive for casino developers not only to bring new economic activity to the towns, but also to clean up and reclaim contaminated land. Almost immediately, gaming proved successful in attracting new investment to the towns in amounts unheard of since the gold boom more than a century before. Once again, speculators were attracted to the area, although this time not to mine silver and gold, but to renovate historic structures and purchase abandoned mine sites for redevelopment into casinos. To date, three casinos are open for business on land that had been contaminated, and up to five additional casino projects that require cleanup are underway.
In 1998, EPA entered into a Prospective Purchaser Agreement with a property owner who has agreed to clean up a tailings pile in a residential area of Black Hawk, outside the gaming district. The agreement releases the property owner from liability for pre-existing contamination. The cleaned site will be the new home of four historic houses that are in the way of casino development. The homes, with funding assistance from the city, will be moved to this new location for restoration and preservation. Several future agreements are also anticipated, resulting in the private cleanup of areas that would otherwise be cleaned up at government expense.
Community BenefitsThe attraction of new businesses to the area has had a substantial impact on the once-depressed economies of Central City and Black Hawk. In addition to the casino projects created by the partnerships with EPA and the state, the area has attracted more than twenty other casinos, as well as restaurants, hotels, and businesses that provide jobs, tax revenues, and increased annual incomes. The revitalization and economic growth of Black Hawk and Central City is also benefiting surrounding towns and the counties of Gilpin and Clear Creek by offering significant job opportunities.
Clear Creek offers tremendous recreational opportunities to both residents and tourists, who have been protected by EPA and the state throughout the cleanup. The scenic area attracts rafters, fisherman, kayakers, and a new generation of gold panners who will be able to enjoy the mountain rivers and beautiful landscape.
The state constitutional amendment that legalized gambling also established the Colorado State Historical Fund. Under this law, a portion of the gaming tax revenue is distributed to the affected towns and other cities throughout Colorado to help preserve and restore the areas that played a significant role in the history of the state. Residents of Central City and Black Hawk may apply for grants from this fund to return their historic homes to the brilliance they displayed during the prosperous mining era.
Keys to Success
There are several key ingredients that make the cleanup and redevelopment of this site a Superfund success story. Although the gaming and historic preservation laws were catalysts in revitalizing the towns, the partnerships formed by EPA resulted in the cleanup of land critical to the economic growth of the area.
Public involvement is an important and ongoing part of the Superfund process. EPA and the State of Colorado have been instrumental in the Clear Creek Watershed Forum and other community efforts that share project information. In 1994, the Clear Creek Watershed Advisory Group was formed under EPA’s Technical Assistance Grant program. The funding is used to communicate publicly cleanup information and to encourage citizen participation in cleanup decisions
For more information about the cleanup and redevelopment of the Central City–Clear Creek site, contact:
Holly Fliniau, Project Manager
U.S. EPA Region 8
1595 Wynkoop St.
Denver, CO 80202