NM agency recommends 10 projects for funding using Gold King Mine spill settlement money

Release of draft plan signals opening of 30-day public comment period

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A list of projects that includes the construction of a whitewater wave on the Animas River in Farmington, the construction of a San Juan County Extension office building and the rehabilitation of a water reservoir in Aztec were recommended for funding by a state agency from a lawsuit related to the 2015 Gold King Mine spill.

The New Mexico Office of the Natural Resources Trustee released its Draft Natural Resource Restoration Plan for the 2015 Gold King Mine Release on March 31, and the document lists the 10 projects that have been recommended to receive funding.

The money will come from part of a $30 million settlement of a lawsuit filed by the New Mexico Environment Department against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the wake of the incident, when contractors working for the EPA near Silverton, Colorado, accidentally contributed to the spill of millions of gallons of toxic materials from the mine into the Animas River and eventually the San Juan River.

More:Navajo farmers still seek justice 7 years after a toxic spill turned river waters yellow

Entities throughout the region that were affected by the spill were invited to submit proposals last year for a share of the settlement money that was set aside for projects designed to restore natural resources injured during the spill. A total of 17 proposals were received, but only 10 of them have been designated as Tier 1 preferred alternatives by state officials.

The list includes:

● Aztec water reservoir rehabilitation project estimated at $950,000.

● A water and wastewater system improvements project for the Totah subdivision submitted by San Juan County and estimated at $1 million.

● The construction of an aquatic invasive species station by the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department under the State Parks Division estimated at $205,226.

● An irrigation ditch diversion project submitted by the San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District and estimated at $1,616,600.

● The construction of a whitewater wave and irrigation diversion dam on the Animas River near the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park submitted by the City of Farmington and estimated at $2 million.

● A San Juan water lease agreement partnership to improve river health submitted by the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission and estimated at $1,803,000.

● The construction of a Nenahnezad Chapter boat ramp on the San Juan River submitted by the Navajo Nation Division of Fish and Wildlife and estimated at $65,575.

● North Main Avenue wastewater management project submitted by the City of Aztec and estimated at $480,000.

● Construction of public boat ramps and other park improvements submitted by San Juan County and estimated at $681,440.

● Construction of the San Juan County Extension office building submitted by San Juan County and estimated at $2.3 million.

“We are really excited about each of these proposals,” said Maggie Hart Stebbins, the state’s natural resources trustee. “ … we wish we could have funded them all, but these 10 really rose to the top for funding.”

The 10 projects that have been named Tier 1 preferred alternatives are not assured of receiving funding. Citizens will have until May 1 to submit comments on the list, and Hart Stebbins said her agency then would take that feedback under consideration before releasing a final plan within two weeks.

Comments may be submitted online at https://nmed.commentinput.com/?id=uBZFS or they may be submitted in writing to Sara Gerlitz Peck, Office of Natural Resources Trustee, 121 Tijeras Ave. NE, Suite 100, Albuquerque, NM 87102 or via email to nm.onrt@onrt.nm.gov.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 ormeasterling@daily-times.com.

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