Jan 13, 2021 Updated Jan 13, 2021
The state of New Mexico has reached an $11 million settlement with companies responsible for the disastrous Gold King Mine blowout near Silverton, Colo., that released tons of toxic metals and acidic waste into the Animas and San Juan rivers in 2015.
The settlement is with Sunnyside Gold Corp., which oversaw construction of the bulkheads that caused mines to fill with acidic water, and parent companies Kinross Gold Corp. and Kinross Gold U.S.A. Inc.
The settlement covers $10 million in environmental response costs and lost tax revenue, as well as $1 million for damage to the state’s natural resources.
“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.”
Although the state has won this battle, Lujan Grisham said, it will continue to fight to hold the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency responsible for the incident.
EPA workers and contractors caused the spill while trying to drain ponds near the mine entrance.
More than 3 million gallons of bright-yellow mine water laced with heavy metals flowed into Cement Creek and then the Animas River, the state Environment Department said in a statement.
The Animas River carried the toxic plume to the San Juan River, which runs through New Mexico and Utah, including the Navajo Nation.
New Mexico, local governments and tribal nations incurred hefty costs cleaning up the contamination, the agency said. The pollution adversely affected the agricultural, recreation and tourism industries in the state’s northwest corner.
Although extensive testing shows water used to irrigate crops in the Animas Valley is now safe, farmers continue to see lower sales due the lingering stigma from the toxic spill, the agency said.
New Mexico has sued the EPA and its contractors, alleging gross negligence, nuisance and trespassing, as well as violations of federal environmental laws.
The case against the EPA is expected to go to trial in early 2022.
“The Gold King Mine blowout was a gut-wrenching reminder of how New Mexico residents suffer when toxic substances are released into the environment,” Natural Resources Trustee Maggie Hart Stebbins said.