SUMMIT COUNTY - A push to tighten local mining regulations in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that over-turned a county cyanide heap-leach mining ban could help close some other existing loopholes.
Currently, for example, a mining company holds a state permit to explore uranium resources in the county. Until 2008, state law didn't require mining companies to disclose uranium exploration activities, according to Jeff Parsons, an attorney with the Western Action Mining Project.
As county planners revamp the regs, they could include language requiring mining companies to disclose details of exploratory activities.
"It's something we're looking at," said county attorney Jeff Huntley, explaining that the revised draft regulations are being reviewed for how well they mesh with existing state mining laws.
The county passed a ban on the practice of spraying low-grade ore with a diluted cyanide solution in 2004, based on the risk of a toxic spill. Even at low concentrations, cyanide is very toxic.
The Colorado Mining Association challenged the county's ban and ultimately prevailed before the Supreme Court. The association argued that existing state laws adequately regulate mining practices, and that local bans could result in a patchwork of regulations that would negatively affect mining companies.
Based on the court ruling, Summit County started looking at ways to control mining short of an outright ban on the cyanide method.
An early draft was up for discussion at commissioner work session earlier this week. The county had anticipated a first public hearing July 6, but that date has been pushed back, pending revisions and review by mining interests, including the Colorado Mining Association.
"The Colorado Mining Association is interested in participating in any public process involving mining regulations," said Stuart Sanderson, president of the trade group.
One path the county could take would be to designate mining areas and implement strict performance standards in those zones.
"The Supreme Court decision was very explicit, only prohibiting a county-wide ban," said Parsons. Under its existing land use powers, the county could decide that certain areas are inappropriate for mining, he explained.
The county's performance standards could require companies to beef up plans for emergency operations, including the clean-up of any potential spill. Those plans would be subject to county review and approval. Overall, the changes would make it easier for local planning boards to review proposed projects and to issue stringent conditional use permits.
Summit County planning director Jim Curnutte said the county would also look at applying its so-called 1041 powers to review and regulate mining operations.
Local 1041 powers stem from a 1974 state law enabling local governments to "designate certain geographic areas and specified activities as matters of state interest." Those powers have sometimes been used to exert authority over projects like pipelines.
According to Curnutte, Summit County may look at designating specific mining or mineral zones that would be subject to local 1041 permitting authority.
Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.