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FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said he has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to create an interim form for tribal residents to claim damage or injury as a result of the Gold King Mine spill that released toxic mine waste last week into the Animas and San Juan rivers.

When EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy visited the Shiprock incident command post in a private meeting Thursday, Begaye said he asked the head of the federal agency for an alternative to EPA Standard Form No. 95 that clearly states it does not preclude people from future claims.

"I said, 'Can you provide a different form, an interim form, where they can go ahead and file the claim, get reimbursed now and then file another one next week?'" Begaye said in a phone interview Thursday. "Because this is an ongoing thing until the whole thing is resolved."

In a statement emailed to The Daily Times Thursday, an EPA spokesman said residents are not giving up future claims if they file EPA Standard Form No. 95 for damages or injuries as a result of the mine spill.

"EPA is not offering immediate reimbursements for damages from the Gold King Mine water and it is not true that if someone submits a claim that by doing so they limit or waive future rights," said EPA Region 6 spokesman David Gray.

Earlier this week, President Begaye issued a directive in which Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch stated the federal form waives residents' future claims and prevents them from getting full compensation for injuries from the spill.

The Federal Tort Claims Act allows people to amend their forms at any time before reaching a settlement with the EPA or before filing a lawsuit under the act, Gray said. Under the act, residents also have two years from the date of the event to file a claim for injury or damage.

Gray added that while the form is available online, the agency's Region 8 website states it is not required to present a claim under the act, adding that the form is a "convenient format" for gathering the information to bring a claim.

Begaye said members of the Navajo Nation are hurting and need help now and in the future.

"Our people are suffering, our water is suffering, our land is suffering. Right now, there are so many people that have been hurt," Begaye said. "We're doing the best we can to recover from this, and it would sure be nice to get help from the EPA."

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and jkellogg@daily-times.com. Follow him @jkelloggdt on Twitter.

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