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EPA announces more Gold King Mine spill reimbursements

Communities and tribes received another reimbursement from the Environmental Protection Agency for costs related to the Gold King Mine spill, which temporarily closed the Animas River in August 2015.

Another $262,441 in grants to cover response and cleanup costs associated with the Gold King Mine spill has been awarded by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Broken down, $101,465 went to the state of Colorado, $80,213 to San Juan County, $58,684 to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, $9,993 to the city of Durango, $7,495 to La Plata County, and $4,591 to the San Juan Basin Health Department.

The EPA has assumed responsibility for the Aug. 5, 2015, spill, which affected waterways in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. Since the incident, the agency has periodically awarded reimbursements.

According to EPA records, with the addition of the most recent award, San Juan County has received a total of $349,409. San Juan County Administrator Willy Tookey could not be reached for comment, but based on agency records and previous interviews, that leaves about $10,000 outstanding.

“We’re pleased with the EPA taking steps toward full reimbursement,” La Plata County spokeswoman Megan Graham said. “We hope to see the awards continue until all costs are recouped.”

The agency has paid $377,073 to La Plata County and $55,464 to the city of Durango, EPA records show.

But local and state leaders say the money hasn’t come fast enough; the EPA’s latest award comes two weeks after a bipartisan group of senators from the four impacted states backed a measure to expedite reimbursements to entities affected by the spill.

The provision was incorporated within the Water Resources Development Act this month. It requires the EPA to reimburse claims within 90 days if the costs are deemed in accordance with federal law and establishes a long-term water quality monitoring program for which the EPA is authorized to reimburse local entities and tribes.

“The announcement of this additional funding is a step in the right direction as Southwest Colorado continues to deal with the aftermath of this disaster,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, R-Colo., said in a statement. “Two weeks ago, we passed a bipartisan amendment in the Senate that required the EPA to fully reimburse the state, tribes and local communities who responded quickly to the spill. We are pleased that the EPA responded with these additional reimbursements, and we will continue to push the agency to complete the reimbursement process as soon as possible.”

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., noted the EPA’s ongoing responsibility to those harmed by the spill.

“I’m encouraged the EPA has awarded more than $260,000 to Colorado communities for costs incurred as a result of the EPA-born Gold King Mine spill,” he said. “The EPA is responsible for this disaster and must continue to support the communities that suffered as a result. I will fight to hold the EPA accountable and ensure all affected communities and individuals are properly compensated.”

EPA spokeswoman Laura Jenkins said the $262,000 sum was awarded through cooperative agreements that local entities struck with the federal agency. Jenkins said no companies or individuals who have filed claims have been reimbursed to date.

jpace@durangoherald.com

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