Mining company will pay $1.6 million in Gold King Mine spill lawsuit

Brennan Linsley/AP
Water flows through a series of sediment retention ponds built to reduce heavy metal and chemical contaminants from the Gold King Mine wastewater accident, in the spillway about 1/4 mile downstream from the mine, outside Silverton, Colo., Aug. 14, 2015.

A Denver mining company will pay the state of Colorado $1.6 million in a settlement connected to the 2015 Gold King Mine spill, which infamously turned the Animas River a sickly hue of orange.

The settlement, announced Monday, resolves a lawsuit by the state against the Sunnyside Gold Corp. The company does not own the closed Gold King Mine near Silverton but did oversee the construction of barriers, known as bulkheads, below the mine.

A federal investigation found these bulkheads caused a build-up of water. When contractors with the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally triggered the spill, about three million gallons of toxic, stored water spilled into a tributary of the Animas River, fouling waterways not only in Colorado but also New Mexico, Utah and the Navajo Nation.

The water, laded with heavy metals, caused significant damage to farmers and to the Navajo Nation, in particular. The federal government had to deliver water to those affected, though not all those in need received help.

In the settlement with Sunnyside, whose parent company is based in Canada, the company does not admit fault. Sunnyside reached similar no-fault settlements with the state of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation earlier this year, for $11 million and $10 million, respectively. 

There are several lawsuits pending against the EPA, as well, including from the owner of the Gold King Mine. Last year, the EPA settled with the state of Utah over the same spill for remediation and clean-water projects. That settlement came to more than $360 million.