State of Colorado settles with mining company for natural resource damage liability at Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site
Dec. 13, 2021 (DENVER)—The Colorado Natural Resources Trustees—Attorney General Phil Weiser, Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, and Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment—have approved a $1.6 million settlement with Sunnyside Gold Corporation (SGC) to resolve the company’s liability for damaged natural resources at the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Site where the 2015 Gold King Mine blowout occurred.
The $1.6 million settlement will enable the trustees to fund projects to restore damaged natural resources from the spill and other releases of hazardous substances within the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Site. The trustees will consult with regional stakeholders, including local governments and not-for-profit groups, solicit proposals, and allocate the money for environmental restoration and property acquisition projects. This work reflects the mandate of the trustees to take necessary actions to address when Colorado’s natural resources are injured or destroyed.
“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,” said Attorney General Phil Weiser.
“The trustees look forward to infusing funds into the local economy through community endorsed reclamation projects that improve watersheds and address legacy mining impacts,” said Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
“We are committed to protecting the outdoor environment that Colorado residents cherish so much. Part of that commitment is to facilitate restoration after releases occur. This settlement will give the trustees and our stakeholders the tools necessary to start providing natural resource improvements to this beautiful area,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment.
The settlement agreement resolves the trustees’ claims that SGC caused or contributed to releases of acidic, metals-laden mine wastewater into the Upper Animas River watershed. SGC operated the Sunnyside Mine from 1986 until 1991. SGC and prior mine operators used the Sunnyside Mine’s main access portal, the American Tunnel, to transport ore as well as mine drainage. The trustees allege that SGC’s ownership and operation of the Sunnyside Mine, and the decision to install bulkheads in the American Tunnel, caused releases that contributed to the degradation of the Animas River watershed and injured natural resources in the area. After the plugging of the American Tunnel, discharge from the Gold King Mine began to increase steadily.
The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety began reclamation efforts at the Gold King Mine in 2008. Beginning in 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initiated Superfund response activities focused on assessing a blockage in an adit at the Gold King Mine. On August 5, 2015, while EPA contractors were scraping away material from above the blockage, acidic pressurized water began leaking from the mine. The flow quickly increased in volume and released three million gallons of mine-impacted water that had been impounded behind the blockage.
The release cascaded down into the North Fork of Cement Creek and into the Animas River, turning the river orange. From there, it made its way into the San Juan River, which travels through New Mexico, the Navajo Nation, and merges with the Colorado River at Lake Powell in Utah.
The settlement agreement will be filed today in U.S. District Court in Denver. Once filed with the court, the agreement will go through a 30-day public comment process. Members of the public can learn more about how to submit comments here: https://coag.gov/office-sections/natural-resources-environment/trustees/sgc-comments/.
After the close of the comment period, SGC and the trustees will present all comments received to the court. The court will ultimately decide whether to approve the settlement. For more information about the trustees and the work they do on behalf of Colorado, please visit: https://coag.gov/office-sections/natural-resources-environment/trustees/.