COLORADO: Feds, Corps Agree $90M to Clean Mine Waste Spills

SILVERTON, Colorado, January 22, 2022 (ENS) – Mine waste cleanup work at the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site near Silverton will be supported by $90 million – half from the U.S. government and half from mining companies Sunnyside Gold Corp. and its Canadian parent company Kinross Gold Corp.

The settlement resolves federal and state liability related to the Bonita Peak Mining District site, which consists of 48 historic mines or mining-related sources where ongoing releases of metal-laden water and sediments are occurring within the Mineral Creek, Cement Creek and Upper Animas River drainages.

The Bonita Peak Mining District includes the Gold King Mine near Silverton, where a waste water spill in 2015 caused an environmental disaster. It began when EPA personnel, along with contract workers, caused the release of toxic wastewater into the Animas River watershed by breaching a tailings dam while attempting to drain ponded water near the entrance of the mine.

“The Gold King spill is a vivid reminder of the dangers associated with the thousands of abandoned and unclaimed hard rock mines across the United States, particularly in the West,” said Deputy Secretary of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau.

In addition, historic mining operations have contaminated soil, groundwater and surface water with heavy metals. A remedial investigation to determine the nature and extent of contamination is underway.

This settlement provides for the continued cleanup of mining-related contamination within the Upper Animas Watershed and will protect public health and the environment by improving water quality, stabilizing mine source areas, and minimizing unplanned releases of mining waste.

Under the agreement, Sunnyside Gold Corporation and Kinross Gold Corporation will together pay $45 million to the United States and State of Colorado, and the United States will dismiss its claims against Sunnyside Gold Corporation and Kinross Gold Corporation.

The United States will also contribute $45 million to the continuing cleanup at the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site and Sunnyside Gold Corporation and Kinross Gold Corporation will dismiss its claims against the United States.

“Today’s settlement holds these companies accountable for their past mining operations at the site,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

“This settlement addresses the cleanup responsibility of the private mining companies and the federal government and ensures that site cleanup work will continue,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

Contractors accidentally destroyed the plug holding water trapped inside the mine, which caused an overflow of the pond, spilling three million gallons of mine waste water and tailings, including heavy metals such as cadmium and lead, and other toxics, such as arsenic, beryllium, zinc, iron and copper into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River and part of the San Juan River and Colorado River watershed.

The spill affected waterways in the states of Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah, as well as the Navajo Nation.

The EPA has taken responsibility for the incident, but refused to pay for any damages claims filed after the accident. Attorneys for the EPA and the Justice Department concluded the EPA is barred from paying the claims because of sovereign immunity, which prohibits most lawsuits against the government.

“Mining companies should be held accountable for these sites that put communities and tribal lands at risk of disastrous pollution” Beaudreau said.

“We are committed to protecting where Coloradan’s live, work and play,” said Director Tracie White of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Hazardous Material and Waste Management Division. “This settlement will allow continued cleanup of this Superfund site, in coordination with our federal and local partners, to ensure the protection of human health and the environment for generations to come,”

EPA leads cleanup activities at the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site, and the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture retain authority on publicly managed lands.

Recent interim cleanup work to stabilize mine waste and reduce contaminant releases to surface waters from source areas at the site, have improved environmental conditions and will inform the development of future cleanup remedies for the entire site under an adaptive management framework, the EPA says

EPA has already spent over $75 million on cleanup work at the site and expects to continue to work at the site in the coming years.

The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.

More information about the site and this settlement can be found here.

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