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Mining company agrees to pay Colorado $1.6 million in Gold King Mine spill settlement

The Animas River in downtown Durango on August 7, 2015, two days after the Gold King Mine spill.
Stasia Lanier
The Animas River in downtown Durango on August 7, 2015, two days after the Gold King Mine spill.

This story originally appeared in the Colorado Sun.

A mining company has agreed to pay the state of Colorado $1.6 million to settle claims related to the 2015 blowout of the Gold King Mine near Silverton, which sent millions of gallons of orange-yellow water laden with heavy metals cascading down the Animas River and into New Mexico and Utah.

The settlement with Sunnyside Gold Corp. resolves the company’s liability “for damaged natural resources,” according to the Colorado Attorney General’s Office. The deal was announced Monday.

Sunnyside doesn’t own the Gold King mine. But it does own the nearby Sunnyside Mine, which is just below the Gold King. The company operated the Sunnyside Mine from 1986 until 1991, when the mine closed. The Sunnyside Mine was a major employer in Silverton.

When bulkheads were installed in the American Tunnel, the main access portal to the Sunnyside Mine, the amount of water polluted with heavy metals flowing from the higher up Gold King Mine began to increase, according to a federal investigation.

The owner of the Gold King Mine at the time of the Aug. 5, 2015, blowout has long alleged that the Sunnyside Mine’s bulkheads were responsible for the amount of the water that had built up in the Gold King.

Sunnyside Gold is a subsidiary of Kinross Gold Corp., a publicly traded mining company based in Canada.

“We are pleased to resolve this matter and to see funds going toward further efforts to improve water quality rather than protracted potential litigation,” Gina Myers, director of reclamation operations for Sunnyside Gold Corp., said in a written statement.

“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,” Attorney General Phil Weiser said in a written statement.

Sunnyside admitted no fault as part of the agreement.

Dan Gibbs, who leads Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources, said that the money will be directed toward “community-endorsed reclamation projects” that address the environmental effects of historic mining around Silverton.

The Gold King Mine blowout prompted the Environmental Protection Agency, whose contractors caused the spill, to create a Superfund cleanup site in the abandoned mining areas around Silverton. The site is called the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Site.

The settlement will be filed in federal court in Denver.

The 2015 blowout led to the filing of several lawsuits involving the mines’ property owners, the state of Colorado and the federal government.

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