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Meetings scheduled for Navajo Nation plaintiffs in Gold King Mine spill case

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
At left, Richard Root and Melvin Jones, both equipment operators for the Shiprock Chapter house, deliver water to a residence in Shiprock for livestock usage on Aug. 11, 2015.

FARMINGTON — Meetings are scheduled for members of the Navajo Nation who are plaintiffs in a 2018 legal filing against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and others for the Gold King Mine spill.

Approximately 300 tribal members are part of the lawsuit filed in August 2018 in U.S. District Court of New Mexico.

The group claims damages were caused by the Aug. 5, 2015 spill that released millions of gallons of heavy metal-laden wastewater from an old adit at the site near Silverton, Colorado.

The contaminated water flowed into a tributary of the Animas River and into the San Juan River at the confluence near Farmington.

The complaint states that after the spill, tribal members from New Mexico, Arizona and Utah were forced to stop using water from the San Juan River for crop irrigation, for dispensing to livestock and for household purposes due to contamination.

Kate Ferlic, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, and others have been visiting the Navajo Nation and providing updates about the case, which is separate from the civil complaint the tribe filed in August 2016. The group, which includes staff from the Navajo Nation Department of Justice, will return on Jan. 16 and Jan. 17 to conduct meetings at four chapter houses in San Juan County.

Goats drink fresh water on Aug. 11, 2015 after equipment operators from the Shiprock Chapter house delivered water to the residence in Shiprock.

Ferlic explained the meetings are part of discovery for the case and plaintiffs are required to attend one of the meetings "or risk having their claims dismissed."

"I do think it's a critical time in the litigation to solidify the claims," Ferlic said in a Jan. 10 telephone interview.

During the meetings, personnel will help plaintiffs fill out questionnaires and discuss the litigation. Translators will be at each meeting to assist those who speak the Navajo language.

In attendance will be agricultural economists who will learn more about how land use was affected by the spill, according to a Jan. 13 press release from the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President.

"These scheduled meetings are very important for all members of the Navajo Nation who have claims related to the Gold King Mine spill. I commend and thank our nation's attorney general for reaching out to our Navajo people and moving this issue forward," tribal President Jonathan Nez said in the release.

The confluence of the San Juan River is pictured Aug. 8, 2015 after the Gold King Mine spill. At left, is the contaminated Animas River, and at right is the San Juan River.

Meeting locations, times and dates

• Shiprock Chapter House from 9 a.m. to noon on Jan. 16.

• Tsé Daa K'aan Chapter House from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Jan. 16.

• Nenahnezad Chapter House from 9 a.m. to noon on Jan. 17.

• San Juan Chapter House from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Jan. 17.

For more information, contact Egolf + Ferlic + Martinez + Harwood law firm at 505-986-9641.

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

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