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Gold King Mine owner sues over taking of private property after 2015 mine spill

Lawsuit seeks $3.8 million in compensation
Todd Hennis, owner of the Gold King Mine, is suing the United States for the Environmental Protection Agency’s use of his property in response to the Gold King Mine spill in 2015. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Todd Hennis, owner of the Gold King Mine, is suing the United States of America for its use of his property in response to the Gold King Mine spill in 2015.

The lawsuit claims the EPA contaminated and occupied his land without permission or just compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It was filed Tuesday in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. Hennis asked for compensation of no less than $3,792,000.

“The government has been physically squatting on plaintiff’s (Hennis’) property for over five years,” the lawsuit says, “refused to make any rental payments, ignored the actual value of the property and rejected (Hennis’) demand to pay fair rental value and/or market value for the occupation.”

Hennis has claimed the EPA improperly took over part of his land since November 2015, just months after the Aug. 5 mine blowout released an estimated 3 million gallons of acid mine drainage and 880,000 pounds of heavy metals into the water system.

The issue revolves around the 33.4-acre Gladstone property on County Road 110 about 5 miles north of Silverton. Sunnyside Gold Corp., owner of the neighboring Sunnyside Mine, operated a water-treatment facility until 2005, when Hennis bought the property. He bought the Gold King Mine the same year.

The lawsuit offers a play-by-play of the events leading up to the disaster, saying “it is irrefutable that EPA was the cause and culprit of the Gold King Mine blowout.”

After Aug. 5, Hennis verbally authorized the government to use a portion of the Gladstone property for an emergency staging area for equipment and supplies. He expected the arrangement would be temporary and he would be compensated for the use of the property, according to the lawsuit.

Then, allegedly without his permission, the government agency built a $2.3 million water treatment facility on an existing concrete slab located on the property. Construction wrapped up in November 2015. Since then, the EPA has continued water treatment and waste storage on the property, the lawsuit said.

At the time, the EPA would not comment on the property disagreement, and Hennis said he expected the government’s lease of the land to end in December, according to a 2015 story in The Durango Herald.

The lawsuit also alleges that the EPA’s use of the property has prevented Hennis from taking advantage of profitable development and mining opportunities.

It argues that the EPA coerced Hennis into signing property access agreements. In January 2021, the government said it would charge him penalties of $59,017 per day if he did not sign “consent for access to property” documents, the lawsuit said.

Hennis maintains that he has not been compensated for this or other uses of his property. The EPA did agree to cover the cost of supplies and equipment, owned by Hennis, that were discarded by the EPA, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit asks for at least $792,000, or the fair rental value of $11,000 per month from Aug. 5, 2015, to Tuesday.

It asks for at least $3 million in compensation for the government’s damage to and physical occupation of the Gladstone property. The property was worth at least $3 million, according to a private appraisal in January 2021. The lawsuit also calls for interest payments on the compensation.

smullane@durangoherald.com

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