Gold King Mine spill settlement fund draws 17 proposals totaling $28 million
Draft plan prioritizing projects likely to be released sometime in January
FARMINGTON — New Mexico officials received 17 proposals totaling more than $28 million for the $10 million in Gold King Mine spill settlement money between the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that has been set aside for restoration projects.
The deadline for submitting proposals for the settlement money was Oct. 28, a date that was extended from its original deadline of Sept. 30 by the New Mexico Office of the Natural Resources Trustee, the state agency that is coordinating the process.
Maggie Hart Stebbins, the New Mexico natural resources trustee, said her agency has begun the process of vetting the proposals and will be analyzing them to determine if additional information is needed from any of the entities seeking the funding.
“We’re very excited about all of them,” Hart Stebbins said about the proposals.
The $10 million is part of a $32 million settlement the state reached with the EPA earlier this year to compensate New Mexico for damages related to the August 2015 incident, during 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.
A total of $18.1 million from that settlement was designated for response costs, while $3.5 million was set aside for water quality and cleanup activities through Clean Water Act and Superfund grants.
The remaining $10 million has been earmarked for restoration of injured natural resources, much of which state officials said would be used to fund outdoor recreation opportunities in northwest New Mexico.
The list of proposals includes several projects submitted by government entities in San Juan County, as well as those associated with the Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico. San Juan County submitted three proposals, while the City of Aztec submitted two, and the cities of Bloomfield and Farmington submitted one each. New Mexico State Parks led the way with four proposals, while the New Mexico Tourism Department submitted one.
One of the more interesting proposals came from the City of Farmington, which is proposing a project that would lead to improvements to the Animas River near the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park. Farmington officials are seeking $2 million for a more than $3.1 million project that would create a permanent whitewater wave in the river that would be suitable for surfing. The project also would fund the replacement of a failing dam structure that would allow for fish migration, a new intake for the North Farmington Ditch and a fish ladder.
San Juan County is requesting nearly $3.5 million for a new office and training center for the San Juan County Cooperative Extension Service to be located on the collaborative Growing Forward Farm project in Aztec. It also is seeking more than $680,000 for a more than $760,000 project for improvements to staging, signage, parking and restroom facilities at existing recreation boat ramps owned and maintained by the county at McGee Park and Lions Park. Additionally, the county is seeking $1 million for an $11 million for improvements to water and wastewater system for the Totah Vista subdivision south of Farmington.
Aztec officials are seeking $950,000 for a more than $4.2 million project that would lead to the rehabilitation of the city’s Reservoir 1. They also are asking for $480,000 to completely fund the construction of restrooms and a pump station for a plaza designed to public activities.
Bloomfield officials are seeking $1.5 million for a preliminary engineering report for a new, 44-acre reservoir that is estimated to cost $16 million. The proposed reservoir would provide more than five times the storage capacity of the city’s existing reservoir and would extend the city’s water storage from one month to eight months.
The Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife is asking for nearly $70,000 to fund the improvement of an existing road and construction of a boat ramp on the San Juan River, which would provide river access for members of the Nenahnezad Chapter. The Navajo Nation’s Fruitland Chapter is seeking nearly $92,000 for a project that would clear nearly 10 miles of the Upper Fruitland main irrigation canal of debris and vegetation.
The tourism department proposal seeks $3 million to completely fund a marketing and communications campaign that would portray the northwest region of the state as a place that is safe to visit, provides safe recreation opportunities and that produces food and water that is safe to consume.
The four state parks proposals — which come to nearly $10.5 million cumulatively — include the construction of a watercraft decontamination station at the Texas Hole on the San Juan River, the improvement of County Road 4280 leading to the Cottonwood Campground on the San Juan River, a sediment-reduction project on the San Juan River coming from the Rex Smith Wash, and the construction of a 4-mile, ADA-accessible trail on the San Juan River at Navajo Lake State Park.
New Mexico State University’s Water Resources Research Institute is seeking more than $925,000 for a more than $1.4 million project that would build geographic information systems datasets and perform assessments of surface water flows to provide information to members of the Fruitland Irrigation District as they make planning and management decisions.
The list also includes a proposal from the San Juan Soil & Water Conservation District seeking more than $1.6 million for a more than $1.9 million project to replace ditch headgates or improve the diversions on five irrigation ditches on the Animas and San Juan rivers that were affected by the 2015 mine spill.
Hart Stebbins said after her agency has finished analyzing the proposals, it will put together a draft plan prioritizing the projects for funding. She noted that the $28 million in requests far exceeds the amount of money available.
“We can’t fund everything,” she said. “But we feel like there are some really exciting proposals in the pool (of applicants) that will get funded.”
The draft plan likely will be released in middle or late January, she said, and a 30- to 60-day public comment period will follow. Once that process is completed, agency officials will consider that public input and use it to put together a final restoration plan, she said, with contracts being written and awarded shortly thereafter.
“Our turnaround time for producing that final plan will be about two weeks,” she said.
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 email@example.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.