Stories of farmers who could neither raise crops nor sell the crops they harvested provided a persistent theme for a news conference convened Tuesday in Aztec to urge citizens to come forward with claims for damages caused by the August 2015 Gold King Mine spill.
“Too many local families are losing money because they lost their crops,” San Juan County Commissioner Margaret McDaniel said. “They are afraid to water their crops. There are some wells along here people are afraid to drink from.”
Kirtland Mayor Mark Duncan said some farmers could not sell hay they had raised because potential buyers feared it might have been poisoned by mine-spill contaminated water used to irrigate the crop.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas presided over the news conference, which also included other state officials and elected municipal and county officials in northwest New Mexico. The Journal took part via conference phone call.
Balderas said the state is committed to a long-standing litigation strategy ensuring that the people of New Mexico are fully compensated for the mine spill that dumped 3 million gallons of water laced with heavy metals, including lead and arsenic, into a Colorado creek on Aug. 5, 2015. That creek flowed into the Animas River, which took the tainted water into New Mexico and into the San Juan River near Farmington and through the Navajo Nation.
The spill occurred when a crew supervised by the Environmental Protection Agency inadvertently breached a containment wall at the Gold King Mine north of Silverton, Colo. New Mexico has sued the EPA, an EPA contractor and Colorado mine owners in U.S. District Court and the state of Colorado in the U.S. Supreme Court. The Navajo Nation sued the EPA, two contractors and several mining companies in U.S. District Court.
But Balderas said the state wants to hear from individuals who have claims for damages caused by the spill.
People with such claims were encouraged to tell their stories to special counsel Tuesday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at the San Juan County Government Center, 100 South Oliver Drive in Aztec. Citizens were assured, however, that they may continue to make damage claims after today. The deadline for filing such claims is August 2017.
“One of the main messages here is that the health, safety and welfare of the people of New Mexico should never be gambled with and should never be ignored,” Balderas said.