News Feature | December 13, 2016

Navajo Nation Files $160M Claim For Mine Spill

Dominique 'Peak' Johnson

By Peak Johnson

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The Navajo Nation is seeking more than $160 million from the federal government for damages tied to last year’s Gold King Mine disaster in Colorado.

The disaster sent three million gallons of acidic mine water into nearby waterways around Silverton, CO, that entered the Animas and San Juan rivers.

The U.S. EPA claimed responsibility for the spill which occurred while a government contractor was doing excavation work at the abandoned mine in southwestern Colorado, according to The Wall Street Journal. In July, New Mexico sued the state of Colorado stating that it should be held responsible for the massive contamination.

The accidental wastewater spill also placed the federal government in a “tense relationship with the Navajo Nation.”

“Navajo officials have chastised the EPA since the spill and tribal leaders say the aftermath of the release left their people on the brink of economic disaster since use of the San Juan for agricultural purposes was banned,” The Denver Post reported.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the Navajo Nation wrote a letter to the EPA requesting “$3.2 million to cover costs already incurred as a result of the spill, and another $159 million to pay for ongoing environmental monitoring and an alternative water supply.”

Moez Kaba, an attorney for the Navajo Nation with the California law firm Hueston Hennigan, said that the claim fits under the Federal Tort Claims Act “and is a required first step when accusing the federal government of negligence.” If the government rejects the claim, Kaba said, or fails to respond in six months, the damages request can be added to the earlier lawsuit.

The EPA acknowledged receiving the claim and stated that as of August “it had committed more than $29 million to help safeguard the public and environment in the spill’s aftermath.”

The $160 million claim includes “an estimated $62.6 million to secure alternative water supply reservoirs for domestic and farming use, $48.5 million to modify a water-treatment plant, and millions more in health and ecological monitoring.”

The Gold King Mine was recently designated as a Superfund site earlier this fall, allowing for a multimillion-dollar federal cleanup.

According to an Associated Press story appearing in the Deseret News, the EPA included the now inactive mine and 47 other sites on the Superfund list.

The AP referenced a poll that was conducted by Chism Strategies in Colorado, in which 67 percent of Coloradans said that they wanted elected officials to do more about cleaning up the mines.

According to The Colorado Independent, Gold King is still leaking and is estimated to be releasing 500 gallons per minute into the river.

For more coverage on the Gold King Mine visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Old Courtroom, June 2013" Ed Bierman © 2013 used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/