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New Mexico sues EPA, Sunnyside Mine owners

State says both responsible for Gold King Mine’s ‘devastating impact’
Ranchers near Shiprock, N.M., in the Navajo Nation had water shut off in August 2015 after heavy-metal tainted mine wastewater reached them. Now, the state of New Mexico is suing the Environmental Protection Agency and Gold King Mine owners for its impacts on downstream communities after an EPA-contracted crew breached the mine north of Silverton on Aug. 5.

New Mexico filed a lawsuit Monday in federal court against the

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in New Mexico, names the EPA and its administrator, Gina McCarthy, Environmental Restoration, LLC, Kinross Gold Corp., Kinross Gold U.S.A. Inc., and Sunnyside Gold Corp. as defendants. Kinross is the parent company of Sunnyside.

Along with seeking compensation for environmental and economic damages related to the Aug. 5, 2015, Gold King Mine spill, the lawsuit “demands that the Defendants abate the imminent and substantial threats emanating from the mines in Colorado, and remediate residual contamination from the Gold King Mine releases in New Mexico’s surface waters and sediments.”

James Hallinan, communications director for the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General, said he could not comment on open litigation, but the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office is in “ongoing communication” with the state of Colorado over the Gold King spill. The state of Colorado and the owner of the Gold King Mine were not named in the lawsuit filed Monday, although in March the New Mexico Environment Department filed notice of its intent to sue those parties as well.

Colorado Attorney General Office spokeswoman Erin Lamb declined to comment on the lawsuit.

A spokesman with Kinross Gold Corp. responded in an email to a request for comment: “Kinross Gold and Sunnyside Gold were not involved and have no responsibility regarding the incident on August 5th, 2015 and Kinross and Sunnyside never owned or operated the Gold King Mine. We will vigorously defend ourselves from this legal action.”

The lawsuit claims the “root cause” of the disaster dates back more than 20 years to Sunnyside Gold’s attempt to block acid mine drainage by building bulkheads in drainage tunnels below the mine. The owners of the Gold King and Sunnyside mines have disputed the source of the wastewater buildup.

“These bulkheads impounded possibly billions of gallons of acid mine drainage and wastewater in Bonita Peak Mountain and caused the water to flood several adjacent mines,” the complaint says. It accuses Sunnyside Gold of using the mountain to store its waste rather than properly treating it.

It was that built-up drainage that spilled from the Gold King Mine when contractors working for the EPA breached the mine, the lawsuit says.

About 3 million gallons of wastewater containing such heavy metals as arsenic, lead, cadmium, copper, mercury and zinc surged into Cement Creek and subsequently into the Animas and San Juan rivers. The yellow sludge traveled in waterways through Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and the Navajo Nation.

Herald Staff Writer Jessica Pace contributed to this story.

New Mexico lawsuit (PDF)

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