DENVER – A mining company and the state of Colorado have come to a $1.6 million settlement agreement in regard to the 2015 Gold King Mine spill outside of Silverton, which sent millions of gallons of yellow water and hundreds of thousands of pounds of heavy metals down the Animas River.
Sunnyside Gold Corporation has agreed to pay the Colorado Natural Resources Trustees the sum for damages to natural resources resulting from the mine spill and other releases.
One-point-two million dollars of the settlement comes from the Gold King Mine spill damages and the other $400,000 stems from damage to natural resources from other releases at the site.
The state says the money will go toward projects to restore the natural resources damaged by the releases from the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Site, which was created in the wake of the Gold King spill.
The Colorado Natural Resources Trustees will talk with local governments and nonprofits in the area to determine which proposals will be allocated the money for the remediation efforts.
“The trustees look forward to infusing funds into the local economy through community endorsed reclamation projects that improve watersheds and address legacy mining impacts,” Dan Gibbs, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said in a statement.
Sunnyside Gold Corporation owns the Sunnyside Mine just down from the Gold King Mine, which was in operation from 1986 to 1991. The American Tunnel, the main access to the Sunnyside Mine, had bulkheads installed inside, and the state and a federal investigation found those bulkheads led to increased discharges from the Gold King Mine.
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.
As part of the settlement agreement, the company will not admit any liability or wrongdoing and limits the company’s future responsibility.
“We are pleased to resolve this matter and to see funds going toward further efforts to improve water quality rather than protracted potential litigation,” said Gina Myers, the director of reclamation operations for the Sunnyside Gold Corporation, in a statement.
The owner of the Gold King Mine sued the federal government earlier this year, asking for nearly $4 million for the EPA for use of his land since the spill occurred.
“The settlement announced today is a step in the right direction to address the damage suffered in southwest Colorado and the Four Corners region in the wake of the Gold King Mine disaster and other degradation of our natural resources. The trustees look forward to partnering with the local community on how to invest the funds,” Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said in a statement.
The settlement will be filed Monday in the U.S. District Court of Colorado, after which it will go through a 30-day public comment process. People can find out more about the comment process here.