@USBR Begins Animas-La Plata Project Repayment Negotiations with Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe

Lake Nighthorse August 2017 via the US Bureau of Reclamation.

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Marc Miller):

The Bureau of Reclamation is initiating negotiations on a proposed repayment contract for the Animas-La Plata Project with the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe for the Tribe’s statutory allocation of project water. The first negotiation meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, September 13, 2017, at 1:30 p.m. at the Dolores Water Conservancy District office, 60 Cactus Street, Cortez, CO 81321.

The contract to be negotiated will provide for storage and delivery of project water and provisions for payment of operation and maintenance costs of the project.

All negotiations are open to the public as observers, and the public will have the opportunity to ask questions and offer comments pertaining to the contract during a thirty minute comment period following the negotiation session. The proposed contract and other pertinent documents will be available at the negotiation meeting, or can be obtained on our website at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/index.html, under Current Focus or by contacting Marc Miller with Reclamation at 185 Suttle Street, Suite 2, Durango, Colorado, 81303, telephone (970) 385-6541 or e-mail mbmiller@usbr.gov.

@USBR Begins Animas-La Plata Project Repayment Negotiations with Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe

Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Marc Miller, Justyn Liff):

The Bureau of Reclamation is initiating negotiations on a proposed repayment contract for the Animas-La Plata Project with the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe for the Tribe’s statutory allocation of project water. The first negotiation meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, September 13, 2017, at 1:30 p.m. at the Dolores Water Conservancy District office, 60 Cactus Street, Cortez, CO 81321.

The contract to be negotiated will provide for storage and delivery of project water and provisions for payment of operation and maintenance costs of the project.

All negotiations are open to the public as observers, and the public will have the opportunity to ask questions and offer comments pertaining to the contract during a thirty minute comment period following the negotiation session. The proposed contract and other pertinent documents will be available at the negotiation meeting, or can be obtained on our website at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/index.html, under Current Focus or by contacting Marc Miller with Reclamation at 185 Suttle Street, Suite 2, Durango, Colorado, 81303, telephone (970) 385-6541 or e-mail mbmiller@usbr.gov.

#Utah #GoldKingMine lawsuit lacks details

This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliot):

Utah’s $1.9 billion claim against the Environmental Protection Agency for a multi-state mine waste spill says Utah’s water, soil and wildlife were damaged, but it offers no specifics.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office provided a copy of the claim to The Associated Press Wednesday…

Utah’s claim from the spill is believed to be the largest of 144 filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which allows people to seek government compensation without a lawsuit. The claims seek payment for lost crops, livestock, wages and income and other damages.

The Navajo Nation filed a claim for $162 million and the state of New Mexico for $130 million. Both have also filed lawsuits against the federal government.

Utah also filed suit, but it named mine owners and EPA contractors as defendants, not the government.

The EPA said January it was prevented by law from paying any of the damages under the Tort Claims Act, angering many. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who took over after President Donald Trump assumed office, has said the agency will reconsider at least some of the claims.

Utah’s claim cites damage to the San Juan River and Lake Powell, a vast reservoir on the Colorado River which the San Juan feeds into. It also cites damage to other waterways, underground water, soil, sediment, wildlife and other, unspecified natural resources.

It does not say how state officials arrived at the $1.9 billion figure.

Dan Burton, a spokesman for Attorney General Sean Reyes, said the state’s lawyers came up with the number after consulting with Utah Department of Environmental Quality scientists and others.

Navajo and #NM lawsuits preclude @EPA review says agency #GoldKingMine

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Durango Herald:

In a written statement, the EPA said the law prevents it from reconsidering claims from anyone who has filed suit.

That could rule out a review of the two largest claims from the 2015 spill in southwestern Colorado, which the EPA inadvertently triggered…

More than 70 governments, businesses and individuals sought about $420 million in damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which is a way to settle without a lawsuit. The Navajos filed claims for $162 million and New Mexico for $130 million.

New Mexico and the Navajos sued the EPA for damages in federal court…

President Donald Trump’s appointee to head the agency, Scott Pruitt, pledged during his confirmation hearing he would review that decision. On Friday, the second anniversary of the spill, he announced a new course.

“A new review is paramount to ensure that those who have, in fact, suffered losses have a fair opportunity to have their claims heard,” he said.

Monday’s EPA statement appeared to narrow the scope of the review considerably.

“EPA won’t be able to reconsider a claim once the claimant has sued the U.S. in court, which the state of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation have done,” it said.

The EPA designated the Gold King and 47 other mining sites in the area a Superfund district and is reviewing options for a cleanup.

On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

@EPAScottPruitt tours the #GoldKingMine

On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt says his agency “walked away” from Colorado after the Gold King Mine spill under the Obama administration, vowing Friday to make a federal cleanup of the Gold King and other abandoned mines around Silverton a priority…

Pruitt visited the site Friday with a delegation of Colorado’s top politicians on the eve of the two-year anniversary of the EPA-triggered disaster. He said that he planned to meet with private citizens impacted by the spill, as well as local leaders, to get first-hand information on his agency’s response.

“I’ve already sent out a letter to all the claimants who have filed claims asking them to resubmit,” Pruitt told The Denver Post in a phone interview ahead of his visit to the Gold King. “Some of those folks I’m sure I’ll meet today, and I’m looking forward to speaking with them directly. Farmers and ranchers, business owners, the recreational activities that occur on the Animas River — all were impacted, and from my perspective it was a wrong that we need to make right.”

Remediation will take place at the scores of sites that have leeched millions of gallons of heavy metal-laden water from the Gold King and surrounding mines, Pruitt said, despite President Donald Trump’s proposed funding cuts to the EPA’s Superfund cleanup program. Silverton’s leaders have expressed concern about the EPA’s efforts taking too long or being delayed indefinitely.

“I can absolutely commit that this will be a priority,” Pruitt said. “I’ve shared with Congress that if money is a concern about fulfilling our responsibilities under Superfund, I will advise them.”

Pruitt said he is working to create a list of 10 Superfund sites — of the more than 1,300 nationwide — for the EPA to focus on.

“I don’t know yet (if the Gold King and surrounding mines will be on that list),” he said. “We are evaluating all of the sites right now. Either way, it is going to be a priority.”

From the Associated Press via The Fort Collins Coloradoan:

The Environmental Protection Agency will reconsider whether to pay farmers, business owners and others in three states for economic losses caused by a mine waste spill that government crews accidentally triggered in 2015, the agency’s leader said Friday during a visit to the site.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who toured Gold King Mine with Colorado lawmakers on the eve of the disaster’s second anniversary, said he told people to resubmit claims rejected under the Obama administration. It’s not clear if the agency could pay on its own or how much of the potential payouts would need to be approved by Congress…

The EPA has designated the area a Superfund site to pay for a broad cleanup…

Pruitt, who had promised to visit the mine during his confirmation hearing earlier this year, said he has sent letters to people whose claims were rejected by former President Barack Obama’s EPA.

In January, the agency said federal law prevented it from paying claims because of sovereign immunity, which prohibits most lawsuits against the government…

It’s uncertain whether the White House and Congress, both controlled by Republicans, are willing to pay for any of the economic losses, although the GOP has been most vocal in demanding the EPA make good.

It’s not clear how much money would be at stake in a new round of claims.

Claims for $1.2 billion in lost income, property damage and personal injuries were initially filed with the EPA, but attorneys for some of the larger claimants later reduced the amounts they were seeking. A review by The Associated Press estimated the damages sought at $420 million.

The EPA has spent more than $31.3 million on the spill, including remediation work, water testing and payments to state, local and tribal agencies.

The agency said last year it would pay $4.5 million to state, local and tribal governments to cover the cost of their emergency response to the spill, but it rejected $20.4 million in other requests for past and future expenses, again citing federal law.

From CBS Denver (Rick Sallinger):

In an interview with CBS4’s Matt Kroeshel, [U.S. Senator Michael] Bennet said, “Having designation as Superfund site is only one step in the process. We need to make sure the resources are put into there to do the remediation that’s required at the site.”

The environmental mess that flowed from the Gold King Mine could happen again. Its owner Hennis says an adjacent mine is filled with even more toxic liquids.

When asked, “Could we have another disaster?” Hennis replied, “Absolutely and it would be a thousand times worse than Gold King.”

[…]

Sen. Gardner echoed that this is not a one time only problem, “Not just Gold King, we are talking about a handful of mines around the West that pose a threat to our environment and our community.”

CPW: Native cutthroat trout reintroduction program continues in Southwest Colorado

Colorado Parks and Wildlife staffers prepare native Colorado River cutthroat trout for stocking north of Durango on July 27, 2017.

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Restoration of native trout reached another milestone on July 27 when 3,000 Colorado River cutthroat trout were stocked in streams about 30 miles north of Durango by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The restoration project is being done in the Hermosa Creek drainage and is a joint project of CPW and the San Juan National Forest, with assistance from Trout Unlimited. So far, restoration work has been completed on three phases of the project which includes sections of the main stem of Hermosa Creek and East Hermosa Creek. One more phase remains that will take two more years to complete.

Last week about 50 volunteers helped to distribute the five-inch fish in about three miles of water in East Hermosa Creek, Relay Creek and Sig Creek.

“Restoring native species is a high priority for Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Hermosa Creek drainage is an ideal location for pure Colorado River cutthroat trout,” said Jim White, CPW aquatic biologist in Durango who has coordinated the projects. “There are numerous tributaries streams that provide a variety of habitats and safe havens for populations in case of catastrophic events, such as fire, drought or disease.”

To restore native fish, the U.S. Forest Service has built two barriers on the creeks which block the passage of non-native rainbow and brook trout. Native cutthroats cannot compete with those fish in a stream. Following construction of the barriers, CPW treated the water to kill all fish in the stream. Generally, it takes two years for biologists to confirm that all fish have been eliminated. After that, native fish can be restocked.

Besides building the barriers, the Forest Service has also made improvements along the streams to improve fish habitat.

Fish are doing well on the section completed five years ago on Hermosa Creek, White said. A recent survey showed that more than 400 fish per mile now inhabit the creek.

“We know the fish are reproducing in that section and we are very pleased with what we’re seeing,” White said.

The last phase of the project will connect East Hermosa Creek with the main stem. The Forest Service is currently building another barrier just below the confluence of the two streams; treating the water to eliminate all fish will be done in 2018 and 2019. By 2020, if all goes as planned, nearly 25 miles of stream in the Hermosa Creek drainage will be home to the native trout.

Hermosa Creek is an excellent spot for anglers to get off the beaten path for catch-and-release-fishing. Anglers are reminded that fishing in this area is by fly and lure only, and that all cutthroat trout caught in the area must be returned to the water immediately.

To learn more about CPW’s work to restore native trout throughout the state, go to: http://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/ResearchCutthroatTrout.aspx.

#Utah sues over #GoldKingMine spill

On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

From The Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

In a lawsuit filed in federal court Monday, Reyes asserts the contractor, subcontractor and mine owner — Delaware-based Sunnyside Gold Corp. — failed to take a host of proper precautions to avoid the disastrous breach near Silverton that released 3 million gallons of metals-laden sludge.

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality is continuing to take water samples from the San Juan River, which was impacted, and Lake Powell, where most of the sludge was deposited.

While Utah agencies and other entities, such as San Juan County, were compensated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency $464,000 for costs related to the initial response, Reyes’ suit asks for punitive damages for the ongoing environmental impacts, stigma associated with the spill and interference with the public’s ability to enjoy the waterways.

The suit asserts the EPA’s on-site team:

• Assumed that because the mine was draining it was not under pressure from the contaminated water behind it

• Didn’t believe it was necessary to test the level or volume of contaminated water from the blockage

• Did not take a measurement to determine the pressure of the water against the blockage of the adit, or horizontal mine entrance

Additionally, Reyes’ suit says the on-site team failed to take the precaution of installing a secondary containment system to prevent large quantities of toxic wastewater from reaching the Animas River and did not develop or implement an emergency response plan.

Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as well as EPA, requires a health and safety plan in conjunction with hazardous waste site operations, the plan in place failed to meet those requirements, the suit asserts.

On Aug. 5, 2015, the day of the spill, the EPA’s on-site team was performing work on the Level 7 adit, where none of the proper measurements or precautions were taken, according to the lawsuit.

“Members of the EPA on-site team have given conflicting reports regarding their work. Some believed the objective was to excavate the adit to create an opening. Others believed the objective was to use a backhoe excavator to scratch the earth around the adit,” the suit reads. “On information and belief, this conflict was caused by miscommunication among the EPA on-site team.”

The suit says the mine blowout continues to pose environmental, economic and other damages to Utah that are not inconsistent with a “national contingency plan,” that will require additional investigation and remediation that will include soil and water testing.

Although the defendants named in the lawsuit should have known the Gold King Mine presented a “high risk of significant harm to the state of Utah and other downstream communities,” they acted in disregard of those risks, the suit says.

New Mexico and the Navajo Nation brought lawsuits against the EPA for the spill, and New Mexico also sued Colorado, asserting negligence.

In late June, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear arguments related to the dispute between the states.

The EPA in January said it would not pay $1.3 billion in claims related to the spill because it is protected by a federal tort law.

In addition, the agency’s inspector general concluded there was no wrongdoing with the Gold King Mine spill, but also conceded there were no specific standards in place for dealing with a collapsed mine portal.

Daniel Burton, a spokesman for the Utah Attorney General’s Office, said the state is continuing to negotiate with the EPA to see if a settlement can be reached without the need for litigation.

The mining district that includes where the breach happened was declared a Superfund Site nearly a year ago, which will accelerate cleanup efforts.

From the Associated Press (Lindsay Whitehurst) via The Durango Herald:

Utah wants cleanup compensation and unspecified damages in the 3-million-gallon Gold King Mine spill that was accidentally trigged by EPA contractors in 2015, Utah Attorney General’s Office spokesman Dan Burton said Tuesday.

Utah hasn’t named a damages amount because it’s still investigating how much it will ultimately cost to clean up its portion of spill that left as much as 880,000 pounds of metals in rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, Burton said. The metals have settled into riverbeds, where they can get stirred up any rainstorm or heavy snowmelt, state officials have said.

Total damages from farmers, business owners and residents along the spill’s path have been estimated at $420 million.

Though Utah was farther away from the epicenter of the spill, contaminants from the blowout have been transported through the San Juan River in southeastern Utah to the vast reservoir of Lake Powell, the lawsuit states…

The Utah lawsuit filed Monday doesn’t name the EPA. The agency has taken responsibility for the spill and given Utah agencies $464,000 so far to help pay for the cleanup. The state hopes to come to a final settlement with the agency out of court, Burton said.

Gold King Mine entrance after blowout August 2015