State AG to discuss Gold King Mine spill suits

AG Hector Balderas will also share updates on two lawsuits filed against the EPA and the state of Colorado over the mine spill

Joshua Kellogg

FARMINGTON — The New Mexico attorney general, along with several Navajo Nation, state and municipal government officials, will hold a press conference Tuesday to urge residents of the Four Corners to communicate the damage or harm they experienced that was caused by the Gold King Mine spill.

The discolored Animas River is seen with sludge flowing in it from the Gold King Mine spill on Aug. 8, 2015, at Berg Park in Farmington.

AG Hector Balderas will speak Tuesday morning in the San Juan County Commission Chambers in Aztec about the current status of two lawsuits the state has filed against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Colorado, according to James Hallinan, a spokesman for Balderas' office.

Navajo Nation and San Juan County officials, along with the mayors of Aztec, Farmington and Kirtland, and representatives of the New Mexico Environment Department, will be present.

The lawsuit against the EPA and two mine owners was filed on May 23 in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque. The suit also names the EPA contractor, Environmental Restoration, along with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, the Sunny Side Gold Corp., Kinross Gold USA Inc. and Kinross Gold Corp. as defendants.

One month later, on June 23, New Mexico filed a lawsuit against Colorado in U.S. Supreme Court that alleged Colorado’s practices and policies led to the Aug. 5, 2015, incident.

A civil complaint was also filed in the U.S. District Court of New Mexico by the Navajo Nation Department of Justice against the EPA for its response to the mine spill.

More than 3 million gallons of wastewater laden with heavy metals accidentally was released from a mine near Silverton, Colo., into a tributary of the Animas River.

Balderas is also scheduled to discuss potential legal steps that would help residents affected by the mine spill, according to a press release.

Members of a special counsel will be present after Tuesday's press conference and on Wednesday for community members to come forward to share claims of damage or harm caused by the mine spill.

Counsel will be on hand at the county administrative offices at 100 S. Oliver Drive in Aztec until about 6 p.m. Tuesday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday.

Earl Yazzie talks about the effects of the Gold King Mine spill on his farm Dec. 23, 2015, in Shiprock.

According to Hallinan, residents are encouraged to bring any paperwork they feel is important or related to harm caused by the spill.

The special counsel also will advise residents on how to complete U.S. Claim Form 95, the paperwork used for claims of injury or damage due to the mine spill.

A meeting Tuesday night at San Juan College hosted by the Gold King Mine Spill Citizens’ Advisory Committee will provide another opportunity for residents to seek help regarding the claim form.

State Assistant Attorney General Bill Grantham will be at the meeting, explaining how to complete the claims form for residents and business owners, according to a state environment department press release.

Trais Kliphuis, the executive director of the New Mexico Office of Natural Resources Trustee, also will speak at the meeting. She will talk about how the office works to restore damage to natural resources caused by the release of hazardous substances and work being conducted around the mine spill.

The meeting is set for 5:30 p.m.Tuesday in the 9010 room of the Henderson Fine Arts Center at the San Juan College main campus at 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.