Colorado Reaches Proposed Settlement with U.S. Government, Mining Company in 2015 Mine Spill Dispute

by Jennifer Shea
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In 2015, the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site in southwest Colorado saw an epic spill of hazardous mine waste. The spill turned nearby rivers a putrid shade of yellow. And ever since that spill, Sunnyside Gold Corporation has been fighting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over payment for the cleanup.

Back in August of 2015, a group of EPA contractors was excavating at the entrance to the Gold King Mine, which Sunnyside does not own. The excavators accidentally dug through a debris pile that was holding wastewater inside the mine, setting free roughly 3 million gallons of dirty water.

Sunnyside had run a mine next to that one. It shuttered in 1991. But the bulkheads that plugged that closed mine had caused a buildup of heavy metal-laden water inside Gold King. The EPA contractors had been trying to address that buildup when they released the wastewater.

Now, more than six years later, Colorado, Sunnyside, and the EPA have reached an agreement on cleanup costs, the Associated Press reports. Sunnyside and its parent, Canada-based Kinross Gold Corporation, will pay $45 million toward cleanup. But they will admit no fault. The U.S. government will spend an additional $45 million toward cleanup in the district.

In a statement on Friday, the EPA said it has already spent more than $75 million on cleanup. And it said it “expects to continue significant work at the site in the coming years.”

Mining Company Says Agreement ‘Recognizes the Federal Government’s Responsibility’

Sunnyside, for its part, said it has spent more than $40 million over the past 30 years cleaning up its property in the area.

When the wastewater poured out, it polluted rivers in Colorado, New Mexico, the Navajo Nation, and Utah. Sunnyside has separate settlements with New Mexico and the Navajo Nation that it hammered out last year. In December, the mining company also agreed to pay Colorado $1.6 million for resource damage from the mine spill. The company admitted no wrongdoing in those settlements.

“The Gold King spill is a vivid reminder of the dangers associated with the thousands of abandoned and unclaimed hard rock mines across the United States, particularly in the West,” Tommy Beaudreau, deputy secretary of the Interior Department, said in a statement. “Mining companies should be held accountable for these sites that put communities and tribal lands at risk of disastrous pollution.”

Meanwhile, Sunnyside was sticking to its guns in a statement on Friday’s agreement. It said the deal “recognizes the federal government’s responsibility for its role in causing environmental contamination.”

$90 Million will Go Toward Cleanup, New Repositories

In the years leading up to this agreement, the EPA and the mining company had fought bitterly over the costs of cleanup. Sunnyside had consistently resisted paying for the cleanup effort. It filed several challenges to the size and management of the project.

The agreement still has to be approved by a federal judge following a 30-day public comment period.

Under the agreement, the $90 million total will go toward water and soil sampling and to build new waste repositories.   

Outsider.com