Durango Tourism Weathers Gold King Mine Spill, With An Exception

December 17, 2015
Photo: Gold King Mine, Animas River Closed Sign, Aug. 12, 2015 (AP)
A La Plata County Sheriff notice marks the closure of the Animas River due to the Gold King mine waste spill, downstream from the mine, in Durango, Colo., Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015. 

The Animas runs through the city. Alarm over the spill's potential harm prompted state officials to close it to recreation for a time and shut off the intakes for drinking water.

"The national and international news made us all very nervous, but we really aren't seeing a big hit on tourism," said Tim Walsworth, who leads the Business Improvement District for the city. 

In fact, Durango saw tax revenues from retail sales and lodging taxes go up this October compared to last October according to the Durango Herald. And Durango's tourism office forecasts growth in lodging for the fifth year in a row. 

But the news wasn't all good. The spill did hurt businesses that depend on river recreation.

"That was really awful for them," Walsworth said.

Damage claims related to the spill were approaching $1.3 million in November. More than 30 individuals and businesses filed claims, but most of the requested money came from two property owners. One of them wants more than $500,000 for a new water well. Other claimants include rafting companies and whitewater guides who lost business.

The Silverton town council and San Juan County Commissioners have signed off on negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency around a potential Superfund clean-up near the Gold King Mine.

This kind of environmental catastrophe isn't limited to Durango. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told a congressional committee last week that the risk of wastewater spills like the Gold King Mine blowout extends across the country.