Evolution of a toxic blowout 

The "Lamborn-Udall Bill" has a yummy, scrumptious, positively zingy ring to it.

Unless you're Bob Schaffer. Or Jeff Crank. Or Bentley Rayburn.

So how did it happen that the self-described "most conservative member of Congress," our own Rep. Doug Lamborn, teamed up with fellow Rep. Mark Udall, a Democrat who wants to replace Wayne Allard in the U.S. Senate?

It all started with what appears to be a carefully orchestrated effort to raise the sound and fury over an impending disaster involving a Toxic River of Death. It would likely obliterate the historic Colorado mining town of Leadville, in Lake County, and surely inject the poison directly into the Arkansas River, thereby threatening humans, animals and agriculture all the way to where the Arkansas meets up with the mighty Mississippi.

Frustrated by bureaucratic red tape, state Sen. Tom Wiens, along with the three members of the Lake County Board of Commissioners, spent several days in mid-February carefully preparing for an "emergency announcement" that the partially blocked Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel was about to blow its contents over the hapless and unsuspecting residents of Leadville and beyond.

Wiens, a Republican from Castle Rock whose district includes a small part of El Paso County, set up a Web site, save-thearkansasriver.org, with numerous videos of himself talking about the threat, and photos of himself looking seriously distressed. When Wiens launched the "emergency announcement" last month, it became an awesome testament to the evolution of multi-level marketing.

Lake County commissioners simultaneously issued a declaration of emergency, comparing the risk of a toxic, metals-laden water blowout to 1984's methyl isocyanate gas leak in Bhopal, India, widely known as the world's worst industrial disaster after it killed thousands of civilians and harmed thousands more.

Lamborn, the freshman Republican whose district includes Leadville, did his part by sending a letter to the very top, warning President George W. Bush of the pending "national disaster" and asking him to personally intervene.

"The problem faced by the people of Lake County did not happen overnight," Lamborn wrote to the president. "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."

Not surprisingly, after Wiens & Co.'s emergency declaration, the resulting Colorado media circus was well-attended. Finally, last week, Rocky Mountain News reporter Todd Hartman applied common sense to the situation (see rockymountainnews.com/news/2008/feb/25/disaster-releases-cascade-of-dissent).

Yes, Hartman reported, the blocked tunnel is alarming, and the federal government must solve the problem. But is the tunnel ready to blow? Skeptics, including Leadville's mayor and emergency-response crews whom Wiens & Co. did not bother to notify before his well-planned publicity stunt say no.

Still, the machine is in full threshing mode. Last week, Lamborn being challenged inside his party this year by Crank and Rayburn and Udall, the presumptive Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, announced they were teaming to force bureaucrats to solve the problem, pronto.

Said Lamborn, in a joint release: "Congressman Udall and I have worked together to draft legislation that will move the Bureau of Reclamation to prevent a tunnel failure by providing the direction ... to act immediately and appropriately."

Said Rep. Udall: "I will work with Rep. Lamborn to pass this bipartisan legislation. The problem of the tunnel's physical blockage has been made much worse by a bureaucratic blockage in D.C."

There was no mention anywhere of what Udall's likely Republican opponent, Schaffer, had to say (standard procedure, really, for the candidate who has established his reputation as perpetually mysterious on any issue of current events).

Also, no mention from Crank or Rayburn, who have accused their rival of lacking leadership. But you can be certain that at least one of the three is experiencing some toxic blowout.



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