As part of the settlement with the Navajo Nation, Sunnyside Gold Corp will pay the tribe $ 10 million.
The Navajo Nation and the U.S. state of New Mexico have entered into multi-million dollar deals with mining companies to resolve claims stemming from a 2015 spill that resulted in the fouling of rivers in three states of the west of a bright yellow plume of arsenic, lead and other heavy metals, officials confirmed Wednesday.
As part of the settlement with the Navajo Nation, Sunnyside Gold Corp – a subsidiary of Kinross Gold of Canada – will pay the tribe $ 10 million. The New Mexico agreement includes a payment of $ 10 million for lost tax revenue and environmental response costs, as well as $ 1 million for damage to the state’s natural resources.
The spill released 3 million gallons (11 million liters) of sewage from the idle Gold King mine in southwest Colorado. A crew hired by the US Environmental Protection Agency triggered the spill by trying to dig the opening of the mine for possible cleanup.
The sewage entered the Animas River and eventually to the San Juan River, triggering a major response from government agencies, tribe, and private groups.
Water utilities were forced to close inlet valves and farmers stopped tapping into rivers as the plume moved downstream.
The tribe said the poisonous water traveled 322 km of rivers on Navajo lands.
“The Gold King mine eruption damaged entire communities and ecosystems across the Navajo Nation,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement announcing the settlement. “We are committed to holding accountable those who caused or contributed to the explosion, and this settlement is just the beginning.”
The tribe’s claims against the EPA and its contractors remain unresolved. About 300 tribal members also have pending claims in a separate lawsuit.
Nez added, “It is time for the United States to keep its promise to the Navajo Nation and provide the necessary relief for the suffering it has caused to the Navajo Nation and its people.”
The EPA under the Obama administration claimed that the water quality had quickly returned to pre-spill levels. But New Mexico officials, tribal leaders and others have expressed lingering concerns about heavy metal pick-up in the sediment and agitation whenever rain or snowmelt results in runoff.
State officials said the Animas Valley was now well within irrigation standards. But farmers continue to see declining sales due to the stigma left by the spill.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, who has led the state’s legal claims, said in a statement that he was happy to settle this part of the case and that it marked a step towards empowering the state. polluters.
“Now it is the US EPA that must step up and take responsibility,” Balderas said. “I will continue to fight to protect our most vulnerable communities and our pristine environment, especially the federal government, which should also be held accountable to these communities.
In August, the U.S. government settled a lawsuit brought by the state of Utah for a fraction of what that state was originally asking for in damages.
In this case, the EPA agreed to fund $ 3 million in drinking water projects in Utah and to spend $ 220 million of its own money to clean up abandoned mine sites in Colorado and Utah. .
After the spill, the EPA designated the Gold King and 47 other mining sites in the area as a Superfund clean-up district. The agency is still reviewing options for a broader cleanup.