La Plata County recently received $9,700 from the Environmental Protection Agency for costs related to the Gold King Mine spill, which county officials say is a fraction of what it is owed.
Earlier this year, the county received about $200,000 from the EPA for costs incurred immediately after the Aug. 5 EPA-triggered spill of 3 million gallons of contaminated mine drainage into the Animas and San Juan rivers.
But county staff calculated the federal agency should cover an additional $249,224 in expenses related to the spill, and $9,817 to cover costs related to a tour of Superfund sites officials attended last fall to determine the feasibility of Superfund designation for the Bonita Peak Mining District.
“Last week, we received an award of $9,786 to reimburse for the majority of the costs incurred on the feasibility of the Superfund designation,” County Finance Director Diane Sorensen said. “The $249,224 is still unpaid.”
The county applied to establish a cooperative agreement with the EPA, asking for a total of $2.4 million, which includes the $249,224, over a 10-year period for remediation efforts directed toward water quality and mine cleanup. The federal agency is reviewing that agreement.
County commissioners were dismayed with receiving only $9,786 and the lengthy process.
“This has been an expensive education,” Commissioner Brad Blake said.
County officials plan to meet next week with the EPA’s Superfund remedial program director, Bill Murray, to discuss the proposed cooperative agreement.
The call for reimbursement is regional. Last month, the New Mexico Environment Department called for the EPA to issue $1.5 million for costs related to short-term emergency response efforts. The collective request came from 14 New Mexico state agencies, university organizations and communities.
The city of Durango recently received about $2,471 of a initial $444,000 request. The city applied for its own cooperative agreement for $5.6 million to be paid over a 15-year period for incurred and ongoing remedial expenses.
“The initial ($9,786) award to La Plata County was solely to reimburse them for some verifiable costs toward activities they participated in, referring to the Superfund tour to evaluate eligibility for the National Priorities List,” said Cinna Vallejos, who leads the regional Ecosystems Protection and Remediation Support Program for the EPA. “It’s not uncommon for these agreements to be funded incrementally.”
Vallejos said the EPA will continue to evaluate cooperative agreement applications from the county, city and other entities and determine what is allowable. She said they stand to receive more in the future but could not say if the requested amounts will be awarded in full.
She could not disclose details about the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s application for reimbursement or amounts awarded.
The EPA’s recommendation to designate the Bonita Peak Mining District as a Superfund site was added to the Federal Register on April 7.