New Mexico, Navajo Nation settle with mining companies over Gold King Mine spill
FARMINGTON — The State of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation have settled part of a lawsuit filed in the aftermath of the Gold King Mine spill.
Sunnyside Gold Corp. and its parent companies, Kinross Gold Corp. and Kinross Gold USA Inc., were among the defendants named in separate lawsuits the state and the tribe filed a year after the Aug. 5, 2015 mine blowout.
Press releases issued on Jan. 13 state that New Mexico and the Navajo Nation reached settlements with the companies for the spill, which originated from the mine site located north of Silverton, Colorado.
A director with Sunnyside Gold Corp. described the agreements as a "no-fault settlement" in an email to The Daily Times.
"The cases were settled as a matter of practicality to eliminate the costs and resources needed to continue to defend against ongoing litigation," Gina Myers, the company's director of reclamation operations, wrote.
Sunnyside Gold Corp. oversaw the construction of bulkheads that caused the Gold King Mine and nearby mines to fill with acidic mine water before contractors working for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ruptured the barriers, releasing more than 3 million gallons of toxic metals and acidic waste to flow into the Animas and San Juan rivers.
Myers explained that the company never owned or operated the Gold King Mine and "was not at fault for the August 2015 EPA-caused spill."
The spill caused disruption of life for communities, damages to the environment and expenses to local, state and tribal governments to clean up contamination.
New Mexico was paid $10 million for environmental response costs and lost tax revenue, according to the New Mexico Environment Department press release.
In addition, the state Office of Natural Resources Trustee received $1 million for injuries to natural resources, the environment department release states.
The Navajo Nation Department of Justice announced that the tribe will receive $10 million.
"Thanks to unprecedented levels of collaboration between state, tribal and local governments, the Animas and San Juan rivers are healthy and clean again – supporting agricultural, recreational and cultural uses" Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said. "But that does not change the fact that the Gold King Mine disaster harmed New Mexicans, harmed our environment, and continues to harm our economy. We have won this battle, but we will continue to fight as we hold the U.S. EPA responsible for this terrible incident."
The U.S. EPA and its contractors were named defendants in the 2016 lawsuits, but New Mexico's complaint also listed former EPA chief Gina McCarthy.
McCarthy was picked by President-elect Joe Biden in December to serve as the first-ever National Climate Advisor within the White House.
Both press releases state that litigation continues against the EPA and its contractors in federal court with the matter expected to go to trial early next year.
Claims also remain pending for a lawsuit filed in 2018 on behalf of approximately 300 members of the Navajo Nation, according to the tribe's justice department release.
The San Juan River flows through the Northern Agency on the reservation before reaching Lake Powell near Page, Arizona.
"We pledged to hold those who caused or contributed to the blowout responsible, and this settlement is just the beginning. It is time that the United States fulfills its promise to the Navajo Nation and provides the relief needed for the suffering it has caused the Navajo Nation and its people," tribal President Jonathan Nez said.
"This settlement compensates the Navajo Nation for the mining companies' part in this devastating spill," Navajo Nation Attorney General Doreen McPaul said, then she restated the tribe's plans for pursuit of claims against the U.S. EPA and its contractors.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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