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State wins settlement over mining accident

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The New Mexico Environment Department and other state entities announced Wednesday that they have reached an $11 million settlement with mining interests regarding the 2015 Gold King Mine blowout near Silverton, Colorado that released toxic waste into Colorado and New Mexico rivers.

The settlement was with Sunnyside Gold Corp. and its parent companies, Kinross Gold Corp. and Kinross Gold USA Inc., according to a state news release.

A request for comment from Kinross Gold was not immediately returned. A website for Sunnyside Gold did not provide contact information.

The $11 million paid to the state of New Mexico includes $10 million for environmental response costs and lost tax revenues, as well as $1 million to the Office of the Natural Resources Trustee for injuries to New Mexico’s natural resources.

The state also has sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its contractors over the accident. Those lawsuits are in federal court and expected to reach trial in 2022. The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office and the Office of Natural Resources Trustees are also involved in the legal actions.

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According to the news release, the accident resulted in more than 3 million gallons of bright yellow mine water contaminated with heavy metals flowing into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River. The plume reached the Animas River and flowed into New Mexico and the San Juan River, which also runs through the Navajo Nation and Utah.

The state of New Mexico said that the accident led to costs incurred by the state, local municipalities and tribal nations to clean up the contamination. It also caused pollution to agricultural areas and adversely impacted New Mexicans in the agricultural and recreational tourism industries in the northwest corner of the state, according to the news release.

Extensive testing indicates that crops in the Animas Valley are now safe and well within irrigation standards, according to the state release, but farmers continue to see lower sales, attributed to the stigma from the accident.