Durango rafting company staying afloat two years after Gold King Mine spill

Understandably, people were hesitant to get into the Animus River, but their business is back and better than ever.

DURANGO - Two years ago, Saturday, three million gallons of polluted water poured into the Animas River in Southwestern Colorado turning the water a brackish yellow.

An Environmental Protection Agency crew accidentally started the spill. Since then, the agency has paid more than 29 million dollars to help in the cleanup.

That disaster shut down a Durango rafting company for two weeks at the time. Since then, that same company is back in business as if the disaster never happened. The owner, Matt Wilson, said he'll be fine as long as he doesn't have to deal with anything like that again.

Wilson owns the rafting company Four Corners Whitewater. Perhaps the only thing flowing better than his business is the Animas River it sits right next to.

"We had a good snow pack over the winter and then it just kept raining, starting in July, every afternoon and keep the water up at a perfect rafting level," Wilson said.

He said his customers come from all across the country, especially from Texas and Arizona. He said once they see some water in the river, "they're ready to go." That may be the case now but two years ago the sight of that same water sent people running the other way.

"The river turned a neon orange," Wilson said. "It was most definitely not inviting to get in the water."

In a matter of hours, the spill from the mine turned the river into a place not even Wilson wanted to go near. He said it looked disgusting and "you didn't even want to touch it."

Because of the spill, his once booming business was shut down for a couple of weeks.

"It was terrible," he said. "It's just, you know, a helpless kind of feeling. Tried to take care of our employees best we could but yeah, there was nothing we could do."

Not only was Wilson's business not making money, he had to refund everyone who planned a trip down the river which he said was a big hit -- but not one that would shut down the company for good.

Wilson said business was a little slower to pick up once it reopened because people were hesitant to get back in the river, but now it's hard to keep people away.

Exactly two years later, Four Corners Whitewater is back on the water and back in business and sending more rafters down the Animas River.

At a town hall in Durango on Friday, Gov. Hickenlooper announced the EPA will reopen the claims process they originally said they would not pay. The governor, along with Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, assured people in Durango that getting a superfund designation remains a top priority.

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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