Four projects receive support from Gold King Mine settlement money

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A state agency has finalized a plan to fund four projects in San Juan County with money received last year from a no-fault settlement over the Gold King Mine spill.

Earlier this year, the New Mexico Office of Natural Resources Trustee revealed restoration projects suggested to share the $1 million obtained from Sunnyside Gold Corp. and its parent companies, Kinross Gold Corp. and Kinross Gold USA Inc.

The state agency on March 25 formally selected the projects and revealed the amounts each will receive:

• Construction of a boat ramp on the Animas River in Cedar Hill – $160,000

• Construction of a pavilion at Gateway Park in Farmington – $300,000

• Implementation of the San Juan Valley Soil Health Restoration Project proposed by the San Juan County Soil and Water Conservation District – $280,000

• Implementation of the agricultural irrigation system upgrade project proposed by the Hogback community – $250,000

The Hogback Diversion, which reroutes San Juan River water to the Hogback irrigation canal, is pictured on May 13, 2016 in Hogback.

The remaining amount from the settlement will be used "for contingency purposes as needed among the four projects," according to the state agency.

"We are excited to partner with the local governments and organizations that will implement these projects and eager to begin the process of making whole communities that were so negatively affected by the Gold King Mine release," Maggie Hart Stebbins, the natural resources trustee, said.

She added that the agency is grateful to those who submitted feedback about the proposals during the public comment period this year.

The projects were selected because they provide recreational opportunities, enhance soil and stream health, or help compensate agricultural losses.

Construction of a boat ramp on the Animas River is a project proposed by San Juan County to build a new access point for public use on 5.2 acres of land the county owns that borders the river at Cedar Hill.

The project was proposed as a way to increase recreational opportunities on the river, especially since there is no public access point for the 38.7 miles between Aztec and Durango, Colorado.

The San Juan County Commission approved the project design in December 2020. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved a permit for project construction in November 2021.

Victoria Kaufman helps customers pick produce on July 7, 2018 at the Kaufman Family Farm booth during the Growers Market at Farmington Museum at Gateway Park.

The San Juan County Soil and Water Conservation District will oversee the San Juan Valley Soil Health Restoration Project.

This project would provide education to farmers about best practices to improve agricultural soil health, with focus on farmlands impacted by the lack of irrigation water during the mine spill in 2015.

More:Litigation on hold in New Mexico's case against EPA over Gold King Mine spill

The City of Farmington submitted the proposal to build a permanent outdoor covered space for the farmer's market at Gateway Park.

The project will consist of a 2,500 to 3,000 square foot pavilion with electricity, roll-up door enclosures, restrooms and other amenities. It is one component of an overall design by the city to enhance the location.

Water from the Animas River mixes with the San Juan River on Aug. 8, 2015, shortly after the Gold King Mine spill.

While the goal of the state agency is to have the money released to the projects as soon as possible, funding for the irrigation system upgrade in Hogback is contingent on additional funding to complete the project.

The project was proposed by the Tsé Daa K'aan Chapter to purchase upgraded water pumps that deliver irrigation water to 55 farmers on nearly 1,000 acres of land in Hogback.

More:State office seeks proposals for restoring natural areas harmed by Gold King Mine spill

The chapter was seeking to replace three water pumps – at $125,000 apiece – because each one has been damaged by high sediment in the San Juan River.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at

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