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La Plata County seeks additional payments to cover spill costs

EPA has already reimbursed almost $200,000
A panoramic view Aug. 7 when the Animas River turned yellow in Durango from the Gold King Mine spill.

The Environmental Protection Agency has already written La Plata County a check this week for $197,792 to offset costs related to the Gold King Mine spill, but the county says more is due.

The nearly $200,000 accounts for expenditures between Aug. 12 and Sept. 11. The purchase order, which was submitted to the federal agency in September, fast-tracked the process for receiving the funds, but it will be months before the county sees the rest of the money.

The county has tallied an additional $126,115, including nearly $20,000 for water testing, spent through mid-October.

A cooperative agreement between the county and the Environmental Protection Agency will outline response and cleanup goals over the next 10 years, and it includes a real-time water-monitoring system and improved communication strategies. Its final draft will require authorization from the La Plata County commissioners.

Earlier this week, the EPA granted an extension to continue drafting the agreement after the initial Nov. 3 deadline passed. The new deadline is in February.

“We’re trying to anticipate what the scenarios could be and not cut the taxpayers short,” Assistant County Manager Joanne Spina said regarding the co-op agreement. “The idea is to make La Plata County whole.”

County Finance Director Diane Sorensen said some costs are still trickling in, primarily related to personnel and water testing.

The 2016 county budget proposal includes $8.7 million in contingency funds, partially to create a safety net for unexpected accidents such as the Gold King spill.

Other entities including the Southern Ute Tribe are drafting similar cooperative agreements to recoup costs. The Durango Herald filed an open-records request Oct. 13 to see reimbursement forms filed by businesses, farmers and others whose livelihoods were harmed by the spill. The records request is pending.

On Aug. 5, an EPA crew breached a wall at the mouth of the Gold King Mine north of La Plata County, accidentally sending 3 million gallons of orange mining sludge into the Animas River. The spill polluted watersheds in three southwestern states.

jpace@durangoherald.com

Jul 2, 2022
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