DENVER - Colorado Attorney General John Suthers and Governor Bill Ritter today announced the settlement of the State's claim for natural resource damages at the California Gulch Superfund site. The settlement includes $20.5 million in Natural Resource Damages, the second largest sum in Colorado history. The agreement follows closely on the heels of the $35 million settlement for damages at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, and resolves the last of seven natural resource damage lawsuits brought by the State in 1983.
"Today marks the close of an important chapter in our fight to protect and restore Colorado's environment," commented Attorney General Suthers. "I am very pleased that we have been able to recover more than $55 million in the past few weeks to ensure that our state's greatest resource is maintained. In the coming months, we will work with our partners in the Leadville community and the federal trustees to fund some great projects that will provide fantastic benefits for all Coloradans."
"Patience and hard work have paid off for the people of Lake County and all of Colorado in this historic environmental clean up and restoration settlement," Gov. Ritter said. "Through negotiation rather than litigation, this settlement was achieved as a result of strong inter-agency collaboration and with invaluable advice and counsel from local land owners."
The $20.5 million in Natural Resource Damage monies for California Gulch will be administered by state and federal natural resource trustees to replace, restore, and acquire environmental resources similar to those that were injured. Work is expected to begin on restoration projects next summer. Resurrection/Newmont USA, Ltd. will provide $10.5 million of the NRD funds The State will recover the remaining $10 million from ASARCO. These Consent Decrees will resolve claims of over $100 million that the governments have filed in the pending Asarco bankruptcy.
Like the Rocky Mountain Arsenal model, this settlement was accomplished through strong collaboration among the Attorney General's Office, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Department of Natural Resources, and the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board. The settlement will help resolve outstanding issues at the California Gulch Superfund site, provide for restoration of important aquatic and terrestrial habitat along the eleven mile reach of the Upper Arkansas River south of Leadville, and assure the final reclamation of the Black Cloud Mine.
The California Gulch Superfund site is an 18-square mile area surrounding, and including, the town of Leadville. The site includes an 11-mile stretch of the upper Arkansas River, and is dotted with more than 2,000 slag piles, tailings piles, waste rock piles, and abandoned mine structures, including the Yak Drainage Tunnel, which has been the primary source of contamination in the upper Arkansas River basin. Mining operations began in the area in 1859 and continued through the late 1990s. The Res-ASARCO joint venture was created in the mid 1950s to explore and develop the rich mineral resources in the Leadville area. As a result of mining and smelting operations, the area was contaminated with dangerous levels of zinc, lead, cadmium, and arsenic that injured aquatic life, groundwater, and surface water.
California Gulch was added to the Superfund Priorities list in September of 1983, and divided into 12 geographic regions, three of which have since been removed from the list. In 1988, remediation began to minimize the flow of acidic water into the Gulch from Yak Tunnel, which drains water from numerous mine shafts. Water treatment began in 1992, and the parties entered into a cooperative agreement to resolve State and federal Natural Resource Damage claims in 1999.
A consent decree containing the terms of the settlement will be lodged in U.S. District Court, and the public is invited to comment on the decree for the next thirty days.