That appeared to be the conundrum facing Silverton and Durango officials last night during a meeting of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, as they debated whom in Washington should pay for the damages caused by the EPA spill and cleanup of the Gold King Mine.
The EPA, by the way, did not attend the meeting.
On one side, there were many folks like San Juan County Commissioner Scott Fetchenier who recognized that Superfund is a black hole of litigation, high costs and a never-ending cleanup that will depress the local economy and cripple property values.
They’re opting to take the $10 million offered by Sunnyside Gold Crop, Inc. to pay for immediate needs while appealing to Congress for continuing funding.
On the other side was Durango Mayor Dean Brookie, who appeared clueless about the distribution of taxpayer dollars on the federal level.
Brookie said Congress isn’t “in the business of writing checks directly. That’s not they’re (sic) job or their legal purview. I’m curious about how much research” was put into the request.
It turns out there’s this document floating around, it’s called the Constitution and it demands that all federal government spending originate in the U.S. House. Just so we’re clear, the House and Senate is this Congress thing of which Brookie speaks.
The House writes a bill appropriating taxpayer dollars to all federal agencies and tells them how to spend it, it’s sent over to the Senate which always adds more money, then it’s approved by Congress. In other words, Brookie, Congress holds the federal purse strings.
But Brookie wants Superfund, which won’t affect his town’s economy and he thinks is more expedient. However, Superfund requires lawsuits to get cleanup money, and when the EPA starts suing every company that came in contact with the mine, it’s going to take a long, long, long time to get that funding.
And, if it’s lawsuits they want, Sunnyside would rightly pull back on that $10 million offer in order to pay for legal fees. It could take years to get the money needed to clean up the EPA’s mess, and it’s not a forgone conclusion the agency could win a court battle to force private business to clean up the government’s mess.
Fetchenier is right, take the $10 million and ask Congress for emergency funds to contain the mine spill and build a water treatment plant.