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Colorado gets $5 million more from U.S. to help clean up the Gold King Mine blowout

Water flows through a series of sediment retention ponds built to reduce heavy metal and chemical contaminants from the Gold King Mine outside Silverton in Aug 2015.
Brennan Linsley
AP Photo, File
Water flows through a series of sediment retention ponds built to reduce heavy metal and chemical contaminants from the Gold King Mine outside Silverton in Aug 2015.

This story was originally published by The Colorado Sun at 4:08 PM on May 11, 2023.

The federal government will pay Colorado $5 million more for ongoing cleanup of the Gold King Mine blowout in 2015 that soiled the Animas and San Juan rivers, adding to other cleanup payments for the shaft-riddled Bonita Peak Mining District.

The latest settlement, announced Thursday by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, says the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are liable for damages because they manage property within the mining district, which was declared a Superfund cleanup priority in 2016. The EPA is also liable under the deal, because it was the agency doing reclamation work on a water blockage at Gold King in August 2015 when acid-tainted mine water blew out of the shaftunder intense pressure.

The EPA built an interim water treatment plant to slow the river contamination after the blowout, and other reclamation work continues around the mine and dozens of others abandoned in what is now the Superfund district.

“We have vigilantly pursued claims for natural resource damages and will work hard to invest the funds we have recovered to best serve the affected communities,” said Attorney General Phil Weiser, whose office negotiated the settlement on behalf of state agencies grouped as the Colorado Natural Resources Trustees.

“Inactive and abandoned mines that operated before Colorado had mining laws continue to have unfortunate and ongoing impacts to Colorado’s waters and landscape,” said Dan Gibbs, a trustee and executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. Cleanup issues in the district “remain challenging and I appreciate the cooperation among the trustees and the federal government in settling our State’s natural resource damage claims.”

State agencies will spend the money in consultation with local groups on priority cleanup efforts, the release said.

Other settlements involving the troubled mining district include:

  • A 2021 agreement for $1.6 million from Sunnyside Gold Corp., which operated the Sunnyside mine near Gold King from 1986 to 1991. The settlement said the company “caused or contributed to” releases of acidic water full of toxic mine metals into the Upper Animas watershed. 
  • A 2018 settlement with the Blue Tee Corp. for $468,000. 
  • A 2011 claim of $230,000 with the Standard Metals company over its operations in the mining district. 

The Colorado Sun reported in 2020 that the Gold King disaster was caused by a contract EPA crew that was checking out the mine near Silverton for future cleanup work. As the crew used heavy machinery to peel back a layer of rock and dirt covering the opening, orange-colored water began to spill out and then turned into a downhill gusher.

Estimates put the spill at 3 million gallons. Southwestern Colorado residents have sought more extensive abandoned mine cleanups for years, with statewide estimates of about 23,000 unused mining shafts dotting the mountains.

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