Proposals being sought for projects funded by EPA Gold King Mine spill settlement

Money is part of $32 million settlement state reached with federal agency

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • A restoration project solicitation form can be downloaded through the ONRT website at onrt.state.nm.us.
  • The deadline for submitting proposals is Sept. 30.
  • The Office of the Natural Resources Trustee will submit a final restoration plan in which one or more projects will be selected for implementation.

FARMINGTON — New Mexico officials are seeking proposals for projects to be funded with a $10 million settlement the state received from the Environmental Protection Agency in June over the 2015 Gold King Mine spill.

According to a news release from the New Mexico Office of the Natural Resources Trustee, the funding is available for projects that restore or replace injured natural resources or the services they provide — including river, land, habitat and watershed restoration and conservation — or projects that compensate the public for the loss of natural resources after the spill.

A restoration project solicitation form can be downloaded through the Office of the Natural Resources Trustee website at onrt.state.nm.us. The deadline for submitting proposals is Sept. 30.

The funding is part of the larger $32 million settlement the state reached with the EPA, the entity that hired the contractors performing the work on the mine that contributed to the spill. The settlement was announced during a press conference at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park on June 16 that was attended by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe and New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney.

EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe, left, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney speak at a June 16 press conference at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park.

The state's settlement includes $18.1 million that will be designated for response costs, $10 million for restoration of injured natural resources and $3.5 million for water quality and cleanup activities through Clean Water Act and Superfund grants, according to The Daily Times archives.

Navajo Nation officials have reached a separate $31 million settlement with federal officials for damages caused by the same incident.

The news release from the Office of the Natural Resources Trustee states that projects available for funding should have a connection to the Animas or San Juan rivers and must benefit surface water, wildlife or aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. They should also address existing impairments to the rivers, or benefit the services those natural resources provide, such as consumption, farming or outdoor recreation.

Agency officials said they would prioritize projects that provide additional funds or in-kind support to leverage the state's investment. They are encouraging nongovernmental entities seeking the funding to partner with local or state public entities.

When the application process is closed, agency officials said they will prepare a draft restoration plan outlining the proposals that were submitted and prioritizing them for implementation. A public comment period on the proposals will follow.

The Office of the Natural Resources Trustee then will submit a final restoration plan in which one or more projects will be selected for implementation.

"No amount of money could fully compensate for the anguish New Mexicans suffered due to the Gold King Mine release, but this settlement provides fair compensation for natural resource injuries to the extent provided by law," Maggie Hart Stebbins, the natural resources trustee, states in a message to mine spill stakeholders that was included in the news release. "As a resident and stakeholder who was affected by the contamination, you may have insight into the best use of this settlement fund. I hope you will give ONRT the benefit of your input into this process."

During the June press conference announcing the settlement, the governor described the settlement as an economic development boon for the community and said state officials largely would stay out of the way of decisions about how the money is spent.

"We're investing through the community," she said. "You don't need the state telling you how to do that."

Kenney said at that same press conference that the funding would be available soon.

"We don't want to sit on the money," he said.

The State of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation are both continuing to pursue additional litigation against other parties they claim were responsible for the Aug. 5, 2015, spill, in which millions of gallons of toxic waste were released from the abandoned Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado, eventually winding up in the Animas and San Juan rivers.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.