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New Mexico reaches $11 million settlement with mining company over Gold King spill

State says EPA now responsible for damages
The San Juan River was discolored a few days after the Gold King Mine spill in 2015. The state of New Mexico announced Wednesday it has reached an $11 million settlement with a Silverton mining company.

The state of New Mexico has reached an $11 million settlement with Silverton-based Sunnyside Gold Corp. over costs related to the 2015 Gold King Mine spill, the state announced Wednesday.

The Environmental Protection Agency in 2015 triggered the Gold King Mine spill, releasing about 3 million gallons of water laced with heavy metals into the Animas and San Juan rivers.

Sunnyside Gold Corp., however, was seen as a potentially responsible party because the mining company had plugged its own mine pool in the region, which some believe filled up and started to spill out of Gold King.

Sunnyside Gold has been adamant for years that its mine pool is not connected to the Gold King Mine workings.

The state of New Mexico filed a lawsuit in May 2016 seeking to cover costs against Sunnyside Gold Corp., which is owned by the international mining conglomerate Kinross Gold Corp.

Of the settlement, $10 million is for the environmental response cost and loss of tax revenue. The remaining $1 million is for “injuries to New Mexico’s natural resources,” the state said in a news release.

“Thanks to unprecedented levels of collaboration between state, tribal and local governments, the Animas and San Juan rivers are healthy and clean again – supporting agricultural, recreational and cultural uses,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement.

“But that does not change the fact that the Gold King Mine disaster harmed New Mexicans, harmed our environment and continues to harm our economy,” she said. “We have won this battle, but we will continue to fight as we hold the U.S. EPA responsible for this terrible incident.”

The case against the EPA and its contractors is moving through federal court and is expected to go to trial in early 2022, the state of New Mexico said. In that case, it has been reported the state of New Mexico is seeking $130 million. The Navajo Nation also filed a claim for $162 million.

In a similar case after the state of Utah filed a lawsuit over the mine spill, the EPA in August agreed to fund $3 million in clean water projects and another $360 million for remediation projects at abandoned mine sites in the state.

“It is now the EPA who must step up and take responsibility,” Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement. “I will continue to fight to protect our most vulnerable communities and pristine environment, especially from the federal government, which should be held responsible to these communities too.”

Gina Myers, director of reclamation operations for Sunnyside Gold, said the company also reached a settlement with the Navajo Nation for $10 million. She said both settlements were “no fault settlements.”

“The cases were settled as a matter of practicality to eliminate the costs and resources needed to continue to defend against ongoing litigation,” she said. “We are pleased to resolve this matter and to see funds going to those affected by the EPA-caused spill, rather than further litigation costs.”

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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