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Community help

Clearinghouse, emergency funds aim to assist those affected by mine spill

When the Gold King Mine began spewing polluted water into the Animas River’s headwaters Aug. 5, the initial response was disappointing. The Environmental Protection Agency, whose crew triggered the spill, initially failed to communicate the episode comprehensively or clearly – creating a void that was filled ad hoc by an informal network of community communication and collaboration. Though the EPA has since remedied its initial lapse, the community-based response network has continued to grow. Now that the spill’s immediate effects have passed, the economic fallout for individuals and industries affected by the weeklong river closure is crystallizing, and a broad-based group of local, regional, state and federal resources has coalesced to assist with expedient aid. It is a much-needed function for those coping with the disaster.

For the next two days at the La Plata County Fairgrounds, a clearinghouse of information on resources and assistance available for those affected by the Gold King Mine spill will be available for residents, landowners and businesses. This partnership includes the EPA, the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, the state’s departments of Local Affairs and Labor and Employment, the county’s Social Services Department, Region 9 Economic Development District, the Durango Chamber of Commerce, the CSU Extension Service, Southwest Colorado Workforce Center and the Small Business Development Center. They will be on hand from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday to answer questions about the spill’s impact on businesses, agriculture and employees and help connect them to information and assistance.

This is an excellent collaboration that will do much to fill any informational void that those concerned about the spill’s impacts on their livelihood certainly have – as well as to connect those individuals and businesses with whatever resources are available to offset the losses.

Among those is the Community Emergency Relief Fund, a resource administered by the Downtown Business Improvement District and the Community Foundation Serving Southwest Colorado. This fund began after the Main Avenue fire in 2008 left roughly 70 employees without income. Its current balance is insufficient to offset the earnings of several hundred raft guides whose livelihood was suspended after the spill but can help with some supplemental income. A grant committee is accepting applications for relief from the fund. First National Bank of Durango has also established the Animas Hardship Loan Program, through which those struggling to meet their financial obligations can access low-interest loans to bridge any earnings gap incurred by the spill.

The EPA is accepting applications for damages but will take months to process them. In the meantime, the state has released $500,000 in emergency relief funds – triggered by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s declaration of a state of emergency Aug. 10 resulting from the spill. That money will be used to support affected businesses and local agencies, but more will surely be needed to offset the losses the spill caused when agricultural producers were unable to irrigate lost crops, river-related businesses lost clients at the height of the season, and employees lost days of work.

The unified effort to connect those affected with services and resources needed to weather the post-spill environment is a welcome step forward in the recovery process. It will not make whole all those who suffered losses, but it will help. That is community at its best.

Jan 20, 2022
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