Dec. 5, 2016 – The Navajo Nation asked the federal government for more than $162 million for damages and costs caused by Colorado’s catastrophic Gold King Mine spill last year. The mine spill disaster sent three million gallons of toxic waste pouring into two tributaries of the Colorado River. The spill devastated the Navajo tribe’s economy and way of life.
The Navajos filed the claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The nation filed for damages that stemmed from the toxic spill that turned the San Juan River bright orange, and continues to disrupt Navajo lives today.
The river basin runs directly through the Navajo Nation. The lawsuit petition says Navajo farmers and ranchers depend on the water for their crops and livestock. The spill destroyed crops because the nation was forced to shut off irrigation from the poisoned river. Livestock had to be fenced and watered from expensive water shipments.
Spill decimated Navajo Nation
The nation declared in a claim letter: “The spill disrupted the Navajo Nation’s economy and damaged the people and environment in numerous ways. (It) fundamentally altered economic, cultural, ceremonial and spiritual practices that support the Navajo way of life.” the nation said the river is the lifeblood of the Navajo people.
The spill appeared in images seen around the world as a poisonous orange snake slithering down through the Navajo land via the Animas and San Juan rivers. The horror was caused by a contractor the EPA had hired for environmental remediation. That contractor somehow breached an earthen barrier that held back the toxic payload. The water flowed downstream into the Animas River and eventually into the San Juan River, through northwest New Mexico.
New Mexico vs. Colorado Fight
New Mexico and Colorado are fighting in court over Colorado’s culpability in the disaster. Colorado had approved environmental remediation work at the nearby Sunnyside Gold Mine, work which would prove disastrous. New Mexico criticized Colorado for allowing that mine’s owner to plug up an abandoned mine tunnel with concrete bulkheads, instead of continuing expensive perpetual wastewater treatment.
Plugging that tunnel pushed the water into the connected Gold King Mine. According to court documents, the toxic water accumulated there until the EPA’s contractor let it loose.
The Navajo Nation filed the lawsuit against the EPA, its contractor, and Sunnyside Gold Corp. The petition alleges that their misdeeds had caused significant damage to the tribe’s lands, livestock, farms and way of life.
EPA Failure, Negligence
The Navajo said in its claim that the EPA knew there were signs of trouble for years, yet failed to follow reasonable and necessary precautions to prepare for a possible blowout, which occurred in August 2015.
Navajos make $162M Mine Spill Claim
The Navajo nation’s petition outlines its current and future costs stemming from the spill and its aftermath. The claim includes monitoring, water treatment, and mental health counseling.
The letter is addressed to Kenneth Redden, claims manager for the U.S. EPA Office of General Counsel. The EPA didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment after business hours on Monday.
The claim is Re: Navajo Nation FTCA Claim For Damage Resulting From Gold King Mine Blowout.