State of Colorado approves settlement with the federal government for natural resources damages at Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Site
May 11, 2023 (DENVER) — The Colorado Natural Resources Trustees today approved a $5 million settlement with the federal government to resolve natural resource damages claims at the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Site, including damages from the 2015 Gold King Mine blowout.
The United States’ alleged liability stems from two different sources. The U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management manage federal lands within the Bonita Peak Mining District where mining activity historically occurred. Federal law imposes liability for natural resources injuries on owners of sites where they occur. In addition, the trustees alleged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was partly liable for the Gold King Mine release.
The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety began reclamation efforts at the Gold King Mine in 2008. Beginning in 2014, EPA 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 acid mine-impacted water that had been impounded behind the blockage. The contamination then released into downstream waters including the Animas and San Juan Rivers. EPA immediately conducted an emergency response to address the discharging Gold King mine with an interim water treatment plant.
The EPA listed the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Site encompassing several dozen abandoned mines on the National Priorities List in September of 2016 and is currently taking response actions to assess and respond to releases of hazardous substances into surface water from historic mining activities within the site. To date, the EPA has spent over $75 million on response efforts at the site.
The $5 million settlement with the federal government announced today 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, not-for-profit groups, and community members—to solicit proposals, and allocate the money for environmental restoration projects.
“The damage to Southwestern Colorado natural resources remains a matter of great concern. In this action, we are securing valuable funds to address these damages and invest in the restoration of natural resources in this part of our state,” stated Attorney General Phil Weiser, chair of the Colorado Natural Resources Trustees. “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.”
“Inactive and abandoned mines that operated before Colorado had mining laws continue to have unfortunate and ongoing impacts to Colorado’s waters and landscape. The issues surrounding Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site remain challenging and I appreciate the cooperation among the trustees and the federal government in settling our State’s natural resource damage claims,” said Dan Gibbs, a trustee and the executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “The Department of Natural Resources and our Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety will continue to work with our federal partners and other entities to reduce the impacts of legacy mining in our state.”
“Preserving our natural resources so we can protect the environmental and public health of Colorado communities is a top priority for our department,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, a trustee and the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment. “These funds will support the restoration of natural resources impacted by these damages, help Southwestern Colorado recover, and help us build a healthier state for all. We will continue to take necessary action to protect Colorado’s rivers, lakes, and groundwater from harmful pollutants.”
Colorado’s Natural Resources Trustees have recovered natural resources damages for the site several times in the past.
- In December of 2021, the trustees approved a $1.6 million settlement agreement with Sunnyside Gold Corporation (SGC) to resolve claims that the company 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.
- The trustees received approximately $230,000 in natural resource damages from a 2011 claim against the Standard Metals company regarding its operations at the mining district.
- The State settled with the Blue Tee Corporation in 2018 for $468,000, which can go toward the Superfund cleanup within the mining district or to restoring injured natural resources.
These damages will likely be pooled with the recent settlement money as the trustees solicit proposals for projects from local stakeholders.
For more information about the trustees and the work they do on behalf of Colorado, please visit: coag.gov/office-sections/natural-resources-environment/trustees/.
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