New Mexico's draft restoration plan for mine spill settlement money expected March 31
Funding comes from state's $32 million lawsuit against EPA
- State officials received 17 proposals totaling more than $28 million in October 2022 for the money.
- The $10 million earmarked for the program is part of a $32 million settlement between the state of New Mexico and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its role in the Gold King Mine spill.
- Once the draft restoration plan is released, a 30-day public comment period will follow.
FARMINGTON — A draft restoration plan from the New Mexico Office of the Natural Resources Trustee that will determine how $10 million in settlement money from a Gold King Mine spill lawsuit will be allocated is expected to be released by the end of the month.
Maggie Hart Stebbins, New Mexico’s natural resources trustee, told The Daily Times in an email that her agency is on track to release the draft restoration plan on March 31. The plan will list projects that have been selected for funding and the justification for selecting them, she said.
State officials received 17 proposals totaling more than $28 million in October 2022 from government entities in San Juan County, the Navajo Nation and New Mexico. The $10 million earmarked for the program is part of a $32 million settlement between the state of New Mexico and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its role in the 2015 incident, which saw millions of gallons of toxic waste released from the abandoned Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado. That was eventually wound up in the Animas and San Juan rivers.
More:Navajo farmers still seek justice 7 years after a toxic spill turned river waters yellow
More than half that money — $18.1 million — 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 goes to the restoration of injured natural resources, with state officials saying the money could be used to fund outdoor recreation opportunities in northwest New Mexico.
Hart Stebbins had said her agency initially hoped to vet and analyze all the proposals, and release the draft restoration plan in January. But that deadline was pushed to the end of February and then, finally, late March. She said the delay was caused in part by a decision to add an engineering feasibility review step to the process.
Once the draft restoration plan is released, a 30-day public comment period will follow, Hart Stebbins said. Those comments will be reviewed, then a final plan will be released a few weeks after the end of the comment period, she said.
Hart Stebbins said she hopes to have memoranda of agreements signed with the Office of the Natural Resources Trustee’s project partners by the start of its fiscal year on July 1.
The list of 17 projects that Hart Stebbins’ agency received includes one proposal from the City of Farmington, two from the City of Aztec, one from the City of Bloomfield, three from San Juan County, one from the Navajo Nation’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, and one from the Navajo Nation’s Upper Fruitland Chapter.
Farmington’s request was for $2 million, a sum that would be used to partially cover the cost of a $3.1 million project that would create a permanent whitewater wave in the Animas River that would be suitable for surfing near the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park. 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’s requests included nearly $3.5 million for a new office and training center for the San Juan County Cooperative Extension Service, along with $680,000 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. The county also is seeking $1 million for improvements to a water and wastewater system for the Totah Vista subdivision south of Farmington.
Officials in Aztec are seeking $950,000 for a project to rehabilitate the city’s Reservoir 1, and $480,000 to build restrooms and a pump station for a plaza designed for public activities.
More:Officials outline plans for grant money awarded from Gold King Mine spill settlement
The City of Bloomfield’s request for $1.5 million is designated for a preliminary engineering report for a new, 44-acre reservoir that 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.
Officials from the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife requested nearly $70,000 for improvements to an existing road and the construction of a boat ramp on the San Juan River designed to provide river access for members of the Nenahnezad Chapter. The Fruitland Chapter requested nearly $92,000 for a project to clear nearly 10 miles of debris and vegetation from the Upper Fruiltland main irrigation canal.
The remaining requests were submitted by the New Mexico Tourism Department, New Mexico State Parks and New Mexico State University’s Water Resources Research Institute.
Hart Stebbins previously had noted that the $28 million in requests was much greater than the amount of money available.
“We can’t fund everything,” she told The Daily Times in December. “But we feel like there are some really exciting proposals in the pool (of applicants) that will get funded.”
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.