A letter sent by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of threatening the Gold King Mine owner and seizing his land prompted agency officials to explain themselves.
On March 29, The Durango Herald reported that Todd Hennis, who purchased the Gold King in 2005, renewed a contract that allows the EPA access to his property to continue mine remediation north of Silverton through Dec. 31, 2016.
However, Hennis has claimed since the EPA first requested to use his land in 2014 that he has been threatened with fines of $37,500 a day if he does not comply.
Bitter negotiations surfaced again in November when the EPA sought to renew the 2014 agreement. Hennis, a Golden-based investor, has said he wants compensation for use of his land, and to be released from the liability of inactive mines leeching acid mine drainage into the Animas basin.
In February, Tipton demanded that EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy explain why the agency violates Hennis’s “basic constitutional rights” by not entering in reasonable negotiations.
“It flies in the face of reason that instead of working with Mr. (Todd) Hennis, your agency chooses to threaten him,” Tipton wrote on Feb. 19.
“Given the fact that the last parcel of land you gained access to under threat of civil penalty was the land the Gold King Mine is located on – and thereafter caused a blowout for which no one has yet to be held accountable within your agency – Mr. Hennis has every right to be skeptical of both your agency’s integrity and its intent.”
On Aug. 5, the EPA triggered the Gold King Mine blowout, and in the emergency response, took more of Hennis’s claims and built a temporary water-treatment plant on a parcel he owns near the Silverton Mountain ski area.
Shaun McGrath, in a response letter dated March 25, told Tipton that “while the EPA’s goal is always to achieve consensual access to property,” certain bylaws “provides the Agency with significant legal authorities to obtain access in the event a property owner is unwilling to consent to access.”
“The EPA … discussed these authorities at length with Mr. Hennis and his attorney,” McGrath wrote. “The EPA has never sought civil penalties from Mr. Hennis or his companies.”
McGrath said the EPA requested Hennis provide proof that would release him of any liability in the district. Hennis, who has never mined the region, has claimed since the 1990s that the bulkheaded Sunnyside Mine pool is responsible for recent discharges out of the historically dry Gold King Mine.
Hennis wrote in an email on March 28 that he has submitted the appropriate information.
“Neither myself nor my companies should be PRP’s (potentially responsible party) if their (sic) is any legality involved in this,” he wrote.
McGrath said the EPA’s “evaluation of this information will inform future discussions with Mr. Hennis.”
firstname.lastname@example.org This article was updated to correctly reflect that Rep. Scott Tipton’s letter was sent in February.