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Gold King Mine owner sells property to government, ending litigation

Todd Hennis will receive $919,000 for property near Silverton
In the months after the Aug. 5, 2015, Gold King Mine spill, the Environmental Protection Agency built the Gladstone Water Treatment Plant on property north of Silverton owned by Todd Hennis. The landowner sued the EPA in 2021 alleging an illegal takings. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

The owner of the Gold King Mine and the property on which the Gladstone water treatment plant sits has agreed to a judgment in his case against the United States government.

Under the terms of the agreement, Todd Hennis will sell about 33 acres located about 8 miles north of Silverton on County Road 110, to the federal government for $919,000.

Aug 5, 2021
Gold King Mine owner sues over taking of private property after 2015 mine spill

Hennis filed a lawsuit in August 2021 in which he alleged that the government had violated the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution when it constructed a multi million-dollar water treatment plant on his property following the 2015 Gold King Mine spill.

He sought $3.8 million in compensation for his property, including for damage and rent of the parcels.

U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Armando O. Bonilla accepted the judgment April 8, settling nearly three years of litigation. A transfer of title for the parcels has not yet occurred.

Todd Hennis stands before the upper levels of the Gold King Mine. (Courtesy of Todd Hennis)

Hennis acquired the Gold King Mine and the Gladstone property, which contains the Herber placer, Anglo Saxon and Harrison Millsite mining claims, in 2005 with the hopes that he might resurrect the region’s mining industry.

Beginning in 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency had access to Hennis’ property, first under the terms of an agreement, and later under the terms of an administrative order with threat of a fine, the complaint states.

On Aug. 5, 2015, contractors working for the EPA breached an earthen plug holding back heavy metal-laden water in the Gold King Mine, sending 3 million gallons of yellow sludge into Cement Creek and the Animas River.

Hennis gave the agency verbal permission to use his property to stage equipment following the spill. Within three months, EPA had constructed the Gladstone Water Treatment plant, which removes heavy metals from water seeping out of the Gold King. The plant continues to operate today.

Central to Hennis’ case was the allegation that the treatment plant was constructed without his consent and prevented him from enjoying use of the property, resulting in an unconstitutional uncompensated takings.

“When the Gold King event happened, I gave the keys to (the EPA) for Gladstone, and said, ‘Go ahead, use anything, just return it after you’re done,’” Hennis said in October 2015. “That rapidly changed into having the hell torn out of my land.”

Hennis repeatedly rejected the EPA’s requests to secure a long-term lease for the Gladstone property.

In January 2021, the EPA issued an order compelling Hennis to give access to the property under the threat of a $59,017 daily penalty.

The government “threatened to impose soul-crushing civil penalties should Mr. Hennis attempt to exercise his constitutional rights to exclude the Government from his property,” his complaint, which was filed months later, read.

Todd Hennis will relinquish ownership of about 33 acres north of Silverton under the terms of a mutually agreeable judgment proposed by the United States government. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

In an offer extended by the government, the two parties requested jointly that the judge rule against the U.S. and in favor of Hennis, in exchange for the government’s acquisition of the properties in question.

The $918,853 Hennis will receive is significantly less than the $3.8 million he initially sought.

Both Hennis and an attorney for the government declined to comment on the judgment.

Kara Rollins, Hennis’ attorney with the New Civil Liberties Alliance, said she was pleased with the outcome but lamented that it took far longer than her client had hoped.

“Everything that's happened since the Gold King mine incident has just devastated Mr. Hennis,” she said. “This is a piece of property that he built up over time and played an important role historically in the region, and I think Mr. Hennis had hoped would play an important role in the future development of the region.”

According to San Juan County records, Hennis owns at least a dozen other parcels or mining claims near Silverton.

“This hopefully represents the closing of a chapter of his life and the beginning of another,” Rollins said.


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