From The Farmington Times (Brett Berntsen):
Local, state and tribal officials gathered at the Sycamore Park Community Center gym in Farmington today for a roundtable discussion aimed at prompting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address lingering concerns from the Gold King Mine spill.
The meeting was convened by U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., who billed it as an opportunity to combine voices and “hold the EPA accountable for damages.” Topping the list of grievances for most parties was the struggle to secure compensation for response efforts and losses in the wake of the spill.
“To this day, many farmers haven’t been reimbursed,” Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said. “That’s been an ongoing battle.”
Farmington officials also noted that the city has not received full compensation for the $516,000 it spent on spill response measures, including the purchase of a $260,000-sensor system to protect the city’s drinking water supply from lingering contamination in the Animas River. Mayor Tommy Roberts said the city has received $110,000 so far.
Alexis Strauss, acting director of the EPA’s Region 9 office, represented the agency via a video feed. She said the EPA has allocated $3 million to states and tribes for emergency response costs. She said additional claims are currently under review and handled by the U.S. Justice Department rather than the EPA’s regional offices.
“Those decisions are imminent and will be announced very soon,” Strauss said.
According to a retrospective report compiled by the agency for the one-year anniversary of the spill, the EPA has dedicated a total of $29 million toward response measures. Costs include $7.3 million for sampling and analysis, and $5 million for agency personnel. The report states that the EPA is currently in the process of awarding $2 million in grant money to states and tribes for water quality monitoring.
Funding such programs has become a divisive subject between the state and the federal agency. The New Mexico Environment Department has criticized the scope of the EPA’s long-term monitoring plan, pushing for funding to develop its own.
Bruce Yurdin of the NMED’s Surface Water Quality Bureau told officials at the meeting that the department has only received 10 percent of what it considers necessary to study the impact of contaminants released during the spill.
Such disparities prompted the recent lawsuits filed by New Mexico against the EPA, the state of Colorado and several mining companies. Begaye said today that he supports the string of legal actions, and the Navajo Nation is considering filing litigation of its own.
In addition to the issue of restitution, the discussion also delved into methods to address future incidents.
“There’s a large possibility that this could happen again,” San Juan County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said…
As the meeting drew to a close, Rep. Luján asked officials to compile a list of their concerns for submission to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. He said the spill has captured the attention of congress, and efforts to fund response programs have drawn bipartisan backing.