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Application deadline for mine spill settlement money pushed to Oct. 28


Extension designed to give smaller entities more time to prepare application

FARMINGTON — Anyone wishing to apply for a share of the $10 million in Gold King Mine spill settlement money that has been set aside by the state of New Mexico for restoration projects will have almost an extra month to do so.

The New Mexico Office of the Natural Resources Trustee, the state agency responsible for administering the funding, issued a news release on Sept. 16 advising potential applicants that the deadline for submitting a proposal had been moved from Sept. 30 to Oct. 28.

The $10 million devoted to the fund is part of a $32 million settlement the state reached in June with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the entity that hired the contractors who performed the work on the mine that contributed to the spill. The incident resulted in millions of gallons of toxic waste winding up in the Animas and San Juan Rivers in the summer of 2015.

State officials have said the funding is available for projects that restore or replace injured natural resources or the services they provide — including river, land, habitat and watershed restoration and conservation — or projects that compensate the public for the loss of natural resources after the spill.

Maggie Hart Stebbins, the natural resources trustee, said the 30-day extension of the deadline is designed to give some potential applicants more time to prepare their proposals.

"We received feedback from smaller entities that they need more time, and we wanted to be responsive to that," she said, explaining that a lack of staffing was causing representatives of some of those entities to feel like they might have to rush through the process.

The extension was not a result of any lack of interest in the availability of the funds, she said.

"No, not at all," she said.

Hart Stebbins said her agency has not received any proposals yet, but she declined to assign any significance to that.

"That, in my experience, is par for the course," she said, explaining that in most cases like this, proposals typically aren't filed until a few days before the deadline. "(Applicants) tend to take all the time they can. I don't think the lack of proposals at this time indicates a lack of interest."

Once the application process is closed, state officials will prepare a draft restoration plan outlining the proposals that were submitted and prioritizing them for implementation. A public comment period will follow, then a final restoration plan will be adopted in which one or more projects will be implemented.

Hart Stebbins acknowledged the deadline extension will delay that process, but not significantly, she said.

"I would estimate it might shift it 30 days later," she said.

Anyone interested in submitting a proposal can obtain a form by visiting the New Mexico Office of the Natural Resources Trustee at onrt.env.nm.gov. The forms can be emailed to nm.onrt@state.nm.us. A hard copy can be mailed to Office of the Natural Resources Trustee, Attention: Sara Gerlitz, 121 Tijeras NE, Suite 1000, Albuquerque, NM 87102.

The projects must be located in New Mexico to be eligible for funding, and they must be focused on headwater wetlands that drain into the Animas or San Juan rivers, according to a frequently-asked-questions document prepared by Hart Stebbins.

That document also indicates that projects with human use benefits in the Animas and San Juan rivers are eligible for funding, such as boat launch facilities river wave features and river walks. The proposed projects do not need to have a habitat or ecological focus, but they must be connected to the natural resources injured by the Gold King Mine release, the document states.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.