State AG asks for stories about mine spill

Hannah Grover

AZTEC — New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas is asking San Juan County residents to tell their stories about the Gold King Mine spill that occurred in August 2015 and the aftermath of the event.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas talks about the Gold King Mine spill Tuesday during a press conference at the San Juan County Commission chamber in Aztec.

Balderas met with members of the community and the media today at the San Juan County administrative offices.

"The health, safety and welfare of New Mexico citizens should never be gambled, and it definitely should never be ignored," he said during the meeting.

The stories gathered by the Attorney General's Office and attorneys from Robles, Rael and Anaya — a law firm representing the state of New Mexico — will be used in the lawsuits against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, mining corporations and the state of Colorado. Marcus Rael, an attorney representing New Mexico, said the stories will be used to build the case.

The state is suing for money to reimburse agencies for their emergency response and to pay for long-term monitoring. Balderas said the emergency response following the spill cost New Mexico about $1.6 million, and the state will also need about $5 million for long-term monitoring.

"It's critical that we receive information," Rael said.

He said the law firm will be meeting with people in San Juan County until 6 p.m. today and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday at the San Juan County offices, 100 S. Oliver Drive in Aztec. People who are unable to meet with the lawyers or the Attorney General's Office today or Wednesday can call Robles, Rael and Anaya at 505-242-2228.

New Mexico Environment Department Cabinet Secretary Butch Tongate, left, Aztec Mayor Salley Burbridge, Farmington Mayor Tommy Roberts and attorney Marcus Rael Jr. listen during a press conference Tuesday at the San Juan County Commission chamber in Aztec.

In addition to gathering stories, Balderas' office is helping people file claims for reimbursement.

Shiprock resident Judy Begay attended the meeting. She said she has filed four different forms and said she is frustrated because she has heard one thing from one agency and another thing from another agency.

Begay's family used to grow oat hay, alfalfa, corn, squash and veggies, but they have not planted crops since the spill. The family also has been buying water.

"We haven't been drinking water from the faucet," she said.

Allison Scott Majure, a spokeswoman from the New Mexico Environment Department, said there has been a lot of confusion about the process of submitting U.S. Claim Form 95, which is used for claims of injury or damage due to the mine spill.. That confusion is one reason a representative of the AG's Office will meet with residents at 5:30 p.m. today at San Juan College, 4601 College Blvd., during the monthly Citizens' Advisory Committee meeting.

San Juan County Commissioner Keith Johns speaks during a press conference Tuesday about the Gold King Mine spill at the San Juan County Commission chamber in Aztec.

A representative of the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President said the Navajo Nation also has filed a lawsuit and will help people at the Shiprock and Hogback chapters fill out claims.

Balderas said New Mexico and the Navajo Nation will work together to help people like Begay get their stories heard.

"We are fully committed to collaborating together," he said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.