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US, Colorado and mining company reach proposed settlement in Gold King Mine spill dispute


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FARMINGTON — The U.S. government, the state of Colorado and Sunnyside Gold Corp. and its owner have reached an agreement over the ongoing cleanup of mining pollution at an area in Colorado that was the source of the Gold King Mine spill in 2015.

The entities lauded the agreement on Jan. 21, stating it clears the way for further remediation work at the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site, where Sunnyside owns property, as well as providing $90 million for ongoing cleanup activities.

The area near Silverton, Colorado, consists of 48 mines or mining-related sources where ongoing discharge of metal-laden water and sediments are occurring at the headwaters of the Animas River, according to the Colorado Department of Health & Environment.

Sunnyside faced allegations in federal court that bulkheads installed at its mine, American Tunnel, caused changes in wastewater levels that eventually created buildup in the Gold King Mine, according to The Daily Times archives.

Archives state that a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency contracted crew accidentally released the wastewater when they breached a collapsed portal at the Gold King Mine in August 2015.

Sunnyside's director of reclamation told The Daily Times in 2019 that Sunnyside owns mines near the Gold King Mine, but it never owned or operated the Gold King Mine and was not involved in the spill.

The EPA declared the Bonita Peak Mining District a superfund site in September 2016.

Under the agreement, Sunnyside and its parent company, Kinross Gold Corp., will pay $45 million to the U.S. government and Colorado for future cleanup and the corporations will dismiss its claims against the federal government.

The U.S. will also pay $45 million for cleanup activities in addition to dismissing its claims against Sunnyside and Kinross.

The U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico still needs to approve the consent decree, which would happen after a 30-day public comment period.

The start date for public comment begins when the consent decree is published in the Federal Register, then the comment period will appear on the Department of Justice website, a spokesperson with the department explained on Jan. 21.

"This settlement will allow EPA to continue our important cleanup work at the site to protect human health and the environment," Betsy Smidinger, director of EPA Region 8's Superfund and Emergency Management Division, said in a statement. "We look forward to working with our state and local partners to use these funds, which will be utilized to improve the environment for the people who work, live and recreate in the area."

In a news release, Sunnyside stated that the agreement "recognizes the federal government's responsibility for its role in causing environmental contamination" within the Superfund site.

Sunnyside is also "pleased to see its resources put toward further improving water quality rather than protracted litigation with the federal government, a time-consuming, expensive and resource-intensive process."

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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