3 years after Colorado mine spill, victims awaiting payment (copy)

In this August 2015 file photo, Dan Bender, with the La Plata County Sheriff's Office, takes a water sample from the Animas River near Durango after the accidental released of an estimated 3 million gallons of waste from the Gold King Mine by a crew led by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Sunnyside Gold Corp. reached a no-fault settlement for the 2015 Gold King Mine spill in southwest Colorado, a company spokeswoman told Colorado Politics Wednesday.

The company agreed to pay the Navajo Nation $10 million and the state of New Mexico for $11 million in relation to the regulator-caused spill in San Juan County near Durango.

The company spokeswoman said the cases were settled as "a matter of practicality to eliminate the costs and resources needed to continue to defend against ongoing litigation."

Denver-based Sunnyside owns former mining claims and other property along the Animas River Valley, though the company notes it never owned or operated Gold King.

In Aug. 2015, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency contractor inadvertently triggered the release of 3 million gallons of water tainted with heavy metals while excavating in the mine, sending a yellow and orange plume into area waterways in in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, particularly on tribal lands.

After the spill, the EPA created the Bonita Peak Mining District as a Superfund cleanup area. Sunnyside owns mines inside that district.

Gina Myers, Sunnyside's director of reclamation operations, reiterated Wednesday that the company had no role in the polluted water reaching the river.

"In fact, there is ample scientific evidence that shows the Company has improved water quality in the Animas River," she wrote in an email. "We have also been an active participant in local efforts to improve water quality."

She said that over the past 30 years, Sunnyside has spent more $40 million for reclamation, remediation and investigations in the area, operating and closing its Sunnyside mine "in full compliance with the law and its permits." Myers said.

The company received an American Exploration and Mining Association environmental excellence award in 2019 for its work reclaiming and remediating historical mine sites in the Silverton area.

She added, "We are pleased to resolve this matter and to see funds going to those affected by the EPA-caused spill, rather than further litigation costs."

Navajo Nation president Jonathan Nez released a statement about the settlement Wednesday.

“The Gold King Mine blowout damaged entire communities and ecosystems in the Navajo Nation,” he said. "We pledged to hold those who caused or contributed to the blowout responsible, and this settlement is just the beginning."

He added, "It is time that the United States fulfills its promise to the Navajo Nation and provides the relief needed for the suffering it has caused the Navajo Nation and its people.”