New Mexico reaches $11 million settlement over 2015 Gold King mine blowout

FILE – In this Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015 file photo, people kayak in the Animas River near Durango, Colo., in water colored yellow from a mine waste spill. 

The state of New Mexico says it has reached an $11 million settlement with the operators of the Gold King Mine that suffered a blowout in 2015 in southern Colorado filling New Mexico’s Animas and San Juan rivers with polluted gold-colored water.

The settlement was reached by the New Mexico Environment Department, the state’s Attorney General and the state’s Office of Natural Resources Trustee with defendants Sunnyside Gold Corporation, which oversaw the construction of bulkheads that caused the Gold King Mine and nearby mines to fill with acidic mine water, and its parent companies Kinross Gold Corporation and Kinross Gold U.S.A., Inc.

The blowout near Durango, Colorado resulted in gold mines filled with acidic mine water and happened when a crew supervised by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency attempted to clean up the area.

The $11 million paid to the State of New Mexico includes $10 million for environmental response costs and lost tax revenue, as well as $1 million to the Office of the Natural Resources Trustee for injuries to New Mexico’s natural resources.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in her announcement that the Animas and San Juan Rivers are health and clean again but the state isn’t finished with the case in holding others accountable, including the federal agency.

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

As a result of the blowout, more than 3 million gallons of bright yellow mine water contaminated with heavy metals flowed into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River. The toxic plume reached the Animas River and flowed into New Mexico and the San Juan River, which also runs through the Navajo Nation and Utah.

The spill led to costs incurred by the state, local municipalities and tribal nations to clean up the contamination. The spill also caused pollution to agricultural areas and adversely impacted New Mexicans in the agricultural and recreational tourism industries in the northwest corner of the state.

As a result, New Mexico sued the U.S. EPA, its contractors, and mining companies for damages sustained by the state. The lawsuit includes allegations of negligence, gross negligence, nuisance, and trespass, as well as violations of federal environmental laws. New Mexico seeks cost recovery, damages, injunctive relief, and attorneys’ fees. The case against the U.S. EPA and its contractors is still moving through federal court and is expected to go to trial in early 2022.

Source: press release

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