Judge refuses to let feds off hook for Colorado environmental disaster

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A federal judge has refused to let the Environmental Protection Agency off the hook for an environmental disaster it created in Colorado when it breached an old mine, unleashing millions of gallons of contaminated water into a pristine river drainage.

The fight is in court because the federal agency simply took control of some nearby private property where it eventually assembled a cleanup effort, and never has paid for its use.

The ruling comes from Judge Armando Bonilla of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, who refused the government’s motion to dismiss the case.

According to a report from the New Civil Liberties Alliance, the case is on behalf of property owner Todd Hennis.

“Hennis filed a lawsuit against the United States for the physical taking of his property without just compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the organization reported. “The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) caused an environmental catastrophe that preceded and culminated in the invasion, occupation, taking, and confiscation of Mr. Hennis’s downstream property, an action for which he has been seeking redress ever since. This ruling means the U.S. Court of Federal Claims is allowing Mr. Hennis’s lawsuit to go forward to discovery, and ultimately to trial.”

It was back on August 5, 2015, when the EPA “destroyed” the portal to the high-elevation Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado.

“Upon doing so, the agency released a toxic sludge of over 3,000,000 gallons of acid mine drainage and 880,000 pounds of heavy metals into the Animas River watershed. EPA was entirely unprepared to prevent or control the contaminated flows that gushed out once it breached the Gold King Mine portal. EPA eventually mobilized supplies and equipment onto Mr. Hennis’s downstream property to address the immediate after-effects of its actions,” the NCLA said.

“Ignoring Mr. Hennis’s explicit instructions and the scope of the access that was granted, EPA constructed a multimillion-dollar water treatment facility on his land. The U.S. government has never paid Mr. Hennis any compensation for either flooding or appropriating his property for public use. It has instead squatted on his lands for seven years and counting.”

In fact, Hennis did not voluntarily give EPA permission for its operation, and the agency built the facility without his knowledge.

“It later coerced him into allowing access to his lands by threatening him with extortionate fines (over $59,000 per day) should he exercise his property rights,” the organization reported.

The disaster already has cost taxpayers an estimated $44.5 million, with another $20.7 million to come, the report said.

“None of those costs include compensating Mr. Hennis for the physical taking of his property. So long as EPA operates the water treatment facility, stores the waste from such operations, conducts other investigative and remedial activities, and otherwise accesses and occupies Mr. Hennis’s property, he cannot use or take any substantial steps toward development of it,” the NCLA said.

The organization’s litigation counsel, Kara Rollins, said in a statement, “Today, the Court of Federal Claims recognized what we have long known. EPA must answer for the bad decisions it has made and the unlawful actions it has taken since 2015. We are pleased that Mr. Hennis’s case is moving ahead, and we look forward to presenting the facts about what the EPA did to him – and took from him.”

WND reported when the case was filed that the case seeks millions of dollars in damages.

It was prompted by the EPA’s decision to unleash the torrent of contamination that turned the pristine Animas River into a river of “bright, yellow-orange toxic sludge.”

At the time, Hennis gave verbal permission for the feds to “temporarily” store equipment and supplies on his adjacent land.

The EPA then built its water treatment facility, ordered him to sign a consent agreement, which he refused, and followed up with threats of penalties of up to $59,017 per day for any period the EPA would claim he’s not complying with its demands.

The EPA unleashed water containing, lead, cadmium, copper, mercury, arsenic, beryllium, zinc, selenium and iron, and it reached Lake Powell within a week.

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