Sunnyside Gold Corp. is refusing to carry out work ordered by the Environmental Protection Agency as part of the Superfund cleanup of mines around Silverton.
“Enough is enough,” Kevin Roach, with Sunnyside Gold, wrote in an email to The Durango Herald. “EPA has a clear conflict of interest and has wrongfully targeted SGC (Sunnyside Gold Corp.) ... (and) SGC will no longer be a pawn in this never-ending science project.”
In June, the EPA ordered Sunnyside Gold to install five groundwater wells and two meteorological stations at mining sites around the headwaters of the Animas River as part of the investigation into the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site.
The Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site consists of 48 mine sites considered the top polluters responsible for degrading water quality in the Animas River. The site was declared in fall 2016, about a year after an EPA-contracted crew triggered the Gold King Mine spill.
From the outset, Sunnyside Gold was considered a “potentially responsible party for contamination at the site under the Superfund law due to its current ownership and past mining activity at portions of the Bonita Peak Mining District site,” EPA spokeswoman Cynthia Peterson said at the time.
Sunnyside Gold has denied any responsibility but has been willing to work with the EPA in limited ways during the past three years. On Tuesday, however, Roach sent a letter to EPA staff saying Sunnyside Gold “declines to undertake the work,” arguing the company no longer has any liability for mining pollution issues in the Animas River watershed.
Peterson said Wednesday morning that EPA has not yet received the complete letter from Sunnyside Gold.
“When we do, we will review the document and consider options for completing this important work,” she said.
In 1985, Sunnyside Gold, which was then owned by a Canadian company called Echo Bay, took over the vast Sunnyside Mine north of Silverton, but operations were short-lived. Just six years later, Sunnyside Gold shuttered the small mountain town’s last operating mine.
But that didn’t end the company’s involvement in mining pollution issues around Silverton. Ever since, Sunnyside Gold has spent millions of dollars for reclamation and cleanup work in the Animas River headwaters as the company seeks a full release of liability for mining pollution.
Despite past cleanup efforts, Sunnyside Gold is wrapped up in the biggest mystery of mine pollution in the Animas River headwaters.
In 1996, Sunnyside Gold entered an agreement with the state of Colorado to install three plugs to stem the flow of acid drainage out of the American Tunnel, which served as the transportation route for ore, as well as mine runoff, from the Sunnyside Mine to facilities at Gladstone, north of Silverton.
By 2001, however, it was thought the water had backed up and reached capacity within the Sunnyside Mine network. Now, several researchers and experts familiar with the basin believe water from the Sunnyside Mine pool is spilling into adjacent mines, like the Gold King.
Sunnyside Gold, which was purchased by international mining conglomerate Kinross Gold Corp. in 2003, has adamantly denied that its mine pool is the cause of discharge from other mines, saying there is no factual evidence for the assertion.
Much of the work EPA ordered Sunnyside to do, however, seeks to gain more insight into the issue. EPA, too, intends to drill into the American Tunnel this month to better understand groundwater conditions in the area.
Earlier this year, Sunnyside Gold called for the EPA to be recused from leading the Superfund cleanup, arguing it is a conflict of interest for the agency to do so after it caused the blowout at the Gold King Mine in August 2015.
EPA’s Peterson said at the time the agency “will continue to require the company to take actions to ensure that financial responsibility for cleanup is not shifted to taxpayers.”