Gold Company Accuses EPA Of Mishandling Superfund Mining Cleanups In Colorado

February 27, 2019
Photo: Gold King Mine Spill | Contractor Damage Work - AP Photo
Environmental Protection Agency contractors repair damage at the Gold King mine outside Silverton, Colo., August 2015. The EPA had no rules for working around old mines when the agency inadvertently triggered the massive spill from the Colorado mine that polluted rivers in three states, government investigators said Monday, June 12, 2017.

A gold company said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is mismanaging the Superfund cleanup of nearly 50 old mining sites in southwestern Colorado and should be removed as the agency in charge.

Sunnyside Gold Corp., which owns mining property in the Bonita Peak Superfund district, made the complaint Monday in a letter to the EPA. In a written statement Tuesday, the EPA said it is following Superfund laws and is conducting a thorough investigation and cleanup.

The exchange was the latest skirmish in a long-running battle between Sunnyside and the EPA over the cleanup. The EPA has targeted Sunnyside to help pay for the cleanup, and the company has resisted, launching multiple challenges to the size and management of the project.

Sunnyside's letter said the EPA has a conflict of interest because the agency was responsible for a massive spill of polluted water in 2015 from the Gold King Mine, another site in the Superfund district.

An EPA-led contractor crew was doing excavation work at the entrance to the Gold King Mine in August 2015 when it inadvertently breached a debris pile that was holding back wastewater inside the mine.

An estimated 3 million gallons of wastewater poured out, carrying nearly 540 U.S. tons of metals, mostly iron and aluminum. Rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah were polluted.

The spill resulted in lawsuits against the EPA and prompted the agency to create the Bonita Peak Superfund district.

"The conflict of interest is obvious, given EPA's liability for the Gold King spill, which resulted in the Superfund listing and EPA being a defendant in multiple legal actions," said the letter, signed by Sunnyside reclamation director Kevin Roach.

Roach said Sunnyside has already spent more than $30 million over 30 years cleaning up its property in the Superfund district and has made a measurable improvement in water quality. The company said the EPA is targeting it unfairly.

The EPA said Sunnyside should help pay for the Superfund cleanup because its previous mining work contributed to significant water quality problems in the area.

"EPA will continue to require the company to take actions to ensure that financial responsibility for cleanup is not shifted to taxpayers," the agency said.

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