IGNACIO – The price tag for the Gold King Mine disaster has reached about $200,000 for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, and additional expenditures are likely.
Southern Ute Chairman Clement Frost announced the financial setback to tribal coffers when addressing the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs on Thursday. The commission held its quarterly meeting at the Leonard C. Burch Administration Building in Ignacio.
“We’ve been working on obtaining a reimbursement from the (Environmental Protection Agency) for all of our expenditures,” said Frost. “So far, it’s added up to about $200,000, and we still have more to be reimbursed from this disaster.”
EPA contract workers accidentally breached a holding dam at the former gold mine outside Silverton on Aug. 5, spilling about 3 million gallons of wastewater that contained cadmium, lead and arsenic into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River.
After thanking Colorado Department of Natural Resources officials for immediately notifying the tribe about the disaster, Frost had fewer words of praise for the EPA.
“The EPA never lifted a finger to let us know what was going on,” Frost said.
Frost said the western portion of the more than 1,000-acre reservation in La Plata County was contaminated by heavy metals released from the mine spill.
“We’ve had to transfer water over there for livestock,” Frost said. “We’ve also had to take water to our membership.”
Frost added that he was deeply concerned the EPA officials provided oil-contaminated water tanks in response to the spill.
“These are some of the things we’ve had to address with the EPA,” Frost said. “We still haven’t received information about what the future is going to be.”
Bob Randall, deputy director of Colorado Department of Natural Resources, responded, saying that his office would continue working with state health officials to monitor future environmental hazards that might result from the spill.
“The biologists tell me that there are metals in the sediment, the sediment goes into the algae,” Randall said. “The algae is eaten by bugs and the bugs are eaten by fish. So there’s a potential for bio-accumulation, and we will keep testing.”
West of Ignacio, Ute Mountain Ute officials in Towaoc told the commission that southwest portions of its 8,500-acre reservation were also affected by the spill, as the orange wastewater from the mine made its way downstream into the San Juan River.
Ute Mountain Ute Chairman Manuel Heart subsequently presented a letter to the commission, which highlighted tribal concerns that closed mines above the Dolores River could one day contaminate its primary water source.
Frost said Southern Ute officials were also concerned that similar disasters could occur again, adding that tribal leaders were expected to testify next week at a congressional hearing in Washington.
“We’re concerned because this was a man-made effort by the EPA,” Frost said. “This was not a disaster caused by our creator.”