The Environmental Protection Agency says it will “ensure” cleanup activities will be accomplished that Sunnyside Gold Corp. refused to do, but it could result in fines and possible litigation against the last operating mining company in Silverton.
“EPA is committed to ... ensuring that responsible parties pay their share of costs related to the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site,” EPA Region 8 Administrator Greg Sopkin wrote in a letter to The Durango Herald.
“Despite (Sunnyside Gold’s) unwillingness to comply with the order, EPA is committed to ensuring this work is completed to protect human health and the environment in the Animas River watershed.”
After years of working with state and federal agencies in cleaning up mine sites around Silverton, Sunnyside Gold last week said it was done, specifically refusing to carry out a work order EPA sent the company in June.
“Enough is enough,” Kevin Roach with Sunnyside Gold wrote in an email to the Herald last week. “(Sunnyside Gold) will no longer be a pawn in this never-ending science project.”
But Sopkin, in his letter, said Sunnyside Gold is a “potentially responsible party” – a term EPA uses for people or companies on the hook for cleanup costs – because of its “current and former ownership of mining claims at the site and past operation of the Sunnyside Mine.”
In June, the EPA ordered Sunnyside Gold to install five groundwater wells and two meteorological stations at mining sites around the headwaters of the Animas River as part of the investigation into the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site.
According to the EPA, several consequences can result for Sunnyside Gold’s refusal: the company may be subject to civil penalties of up to $55,907 per day, the EPA may seek judicial enforcement, and Sunnyside may be subject to punitive damages in an amount up to three times the amount of any costs incurred by the United States as a result of such failure to comply.
The Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site consists of 48 mine sites considered the top polluters responsible for degrading water quality in the Animas River, a handful of which have a connection to Sunnyside Gold’s past operations.
Sunnyside Gold was active from 1985 until it closed the last operating mine in Silverton in 1991. Since then, the company has spent millions in remediation costs and now argues it no longer has any liability for future cleanup actions.
This story has been updated to describe what consequences may result if Sunnyside Gold Corp. refuses to perform work ordered by the Environmental Protection Agency.