EPA reimburses another $90,000 for Gold King Mine spill costs

Funds awarded to five entities in Colorado and Utah

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday it has reimbursed an additional $90,000 in costs associated to the 2015 Gold King Mine spill, which dumped about three million gallons of mine waste into the Animas and San Juan rivers. Enlargephoto

Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday it has reimbursed an additional $90,000 in costs associated to the 2015 Gold King Mine spill, which dumped about three million gallons of mine waste into the Animas and San Juan rivers.

More than $90,000 in additional reimbursements for costs associated with the Gold King Mine spill in 2015 was awarded to five entities in Colorado and Utah, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday.

According to EPA spokeswoman Cathy Milbourn, the reimbursements are as follows:

La Plata County: $38,779San Juan Basin Public Health Department: $13,611The city of Durango: $1,072Southern Ute Indian Tribe: $812The state of Utah: $36,099.55According to the EPA’s announcement, the payments were allocated to requests for reimbursement that were filed before Dec. 16, and were evaluated following the enactment of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act.

The act was signed into law by former-President Barack Obama on Dec. 16 after it overwhelmingly passed Congress six days earlier. Its intent is to provide funds for critical water infrastructure improvements.

“We are grateful that EPA has continued to review the costs that San Juan Basin Public Health took on between November 2015 and April 2016,” Liane Jollon, executive director for SJBPH, said in a prepared statement. “This was a critical period for us, our state and local partners, and EPA as we worked together to provide more information to the community and to plan monitoring and emergency response for spring runoff.”

The EPA said in its news release the agency continues to evaluate other reimbursement requests, some of which were received after Dec. 16.

“The payments are made using EPA guidelines for determining which response costs related to the Gold King Mine release are eligible for reimbursement under the recently passed WIIN Act,” the news release said.

U.S. senators Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, and Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, co-authored a provision in the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act that requires the EPA to fully reimburse all state, local and tribal governments for response costs.

In a statement, Bennet said this week’s round of payments are a direct result of that effort.

“The EPA’s decision to award additional funds means a great deal to our communities,” the release said. “This money will allow Coloradans to continue recovering from the spill, and shift their focus to working with the EPA through the Superfund process to clean up the Upper Animas River watershed.”

In statements, Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton linked the reimbursements with the recent arrival of the EPA’s new administrator, Scott Pruitt. Pruitt was confirmed in the position in mid-February.

“Within a month of Administrator Pruitt being confirmed to lead the EPA, he is taking the first steps to live up to his commitment to the people of Colorado,” Gardner said in a prepared statement. “I applaud this decision to further pay out the tribe and local governments in an effort to make Colorado whole from the EPA-born Gold King Mine spill.”

“Congressman Tipton is glad to see that EPA Secretary Pruitt had made progress toward his pledge to make the communities impacted by the spill whole,” spokeswoman Liz Payne said.

According to the EPA, it has spent more than $29 million associated with the Gold King Mine spill, which the agency caused while it was working on a remediation project at the mine north of Silverton.

The spill sent an estimated three million gallons of mine waste down the Animas and San Juan rivers. The EPA last fall declared 48 mining-related sites responsible for degrading water quality in the upper Animas watershed a Superfund site, called the Bonita Peak Mining District.

The EPA announced in January it would reject 73 claims totaling $1.2 billion from private businesses and individuals for damage claims associated with the spill.

Staff writer Shira Stein contributed to this story.This article has been updated to include statements from Sen. Michael Bennet and clarify that the amendment to the WIIN act passed in December was a bipartisan effort.