DENVER – A federal court in New Mexico has approved a consent decree settlement announced earlier this year in which two mining companies will pay to have the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continue to clean up the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Site, which includes the Gold King Mine.
The U.S. District Court of New Mexico approved the settlement between the EPA, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Interior, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the state of Colorado, Sunnyside Gold Corporation and its parent company, Kinross Gold Corporation, which was reached in January and partially stemmed from the aftermath of the 2015 Gold King Mine spill.
Under the settlement agreement, Sunnyside and Kinross will pay $41 million to the U.S. and $4.05 million to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The money the federal government receives will be put into a special account for future cleanups at the Superfund site, which have been ongoing.
The EPA said the U.S. would also contribute another $45 million to the ongoing cleanup.
The cleanup effort at the Superfund site near Silverton involves ridding the Upper Animas Watershed of mining contaminants that have seeped out of the Gold King and other abandoned mines in the area for years.
The settlement relieves Sunnyside of obligations to conduct investigations at the Superfund site, which will now be handled by the EPA. It will allow the federal government and the state to access Sunnyside’s property during the ongoing cleanup and resolves some federal liabilities, according to the EPA.
The EPA manages the cleanup at the Superfund site and says it has already spent more than $75 million on those efforts.
“This agreement is tremendous news, as it resolves certain alleged environmental liabilities between the parties, secures funds, and allows EPA to expand our cleanup activity at the site,” EPA Region 8 Administrator K.C. Becker said in a statement. “We look forward to using these resources to address mining-related sources, including historic hardrock mines, tailings and waste rock to improve the environment for the benefit of the Animas River watershed and downstream communities.”
As part of the agreement, Colorado and the U.S. dismissed claims against the mining corporations.
Last December, the state reached a settlement agreement with Sunnyside worth $1.6 million in which Sunnyside agreed to pay the Colorado Natural Resources Trustees for damages to natural resources resulting from the Gold King Mine and other nearby mine spills.
While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency contractors were working on removing a blockage within the Gold King Mine in early August 2015, the metal-laden and acidic water built up and broke out down Cement Creek, then into the Animas River, the San Juan River and downstream to New Mexico, the Navajo Nation and Utah.
Three million gallons of water from within the mine and about 880,000 pounds of heavy metals flowed through the watershed, staining the Animas River an eerie yellow-orange for days.