County bans cyanide mining in a 3-0 commissioners vote
County. He said Summit’s legacy from the last mining era is enough.|Summit Daily News/Jim Pokrandt| |
BRECKENRIDGE – Summit County is the fifth Colorado county to ban cyanide heap leach mining, nearly a year after the ban failed to take hold as a state legislative mandate.
Dozens of Summit County residents attending Monday’s Board of County Commissioners public hearing applauded the unanimous 3-0 vote.
Mining advocates walked away disappointedly from the late afternoon hearing at Summit County Courthouse.
Most of the active mining operations in Summit County primarily excavate construction materials.
There are no mines that currently use cyanide heap leach techniques to extract precious metals from piles of ore.
Mine tailings left over from the county’s historic gold and silver days, however, might someday be attractive with more efficient technologies such as leaching cyanide through ore.
“We’re still cleaning up after historic mining claims, I suppose we should accept that as our heritage,” said BOCC chairman Bill Wallace.
“But I don’t want to help create a situation in the future where people would question our actions today.”
Wallace and his fellow commissioners, Gary Lindstrom and Tom Long, voted against the advice of the narrow majority of countywide planning commissioners.
Two months ago, the Countywide Planning Commission voted 4-3 to recommend allowing cyanide heap leach mining with a successful application for a conditional use permit.
The permit would have carried a number of standards and safeguards to be met, but it would have been subject to negotiation and the testimony of experts.
Last week, County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom, who committed early to the ban, said he would bring in as many experts as the mining interests would for a conditional use permit.
Nevertheless, planning commissioners who opposed a ban thought the permit could work because mining companies could use the heap leach technique responsibly.
But the testimony from state regulators – who said there have been spills and leaks of cyanide from mines in Colorado – convinced Wallace to vote for the ban.
A crowd of about 100 sat through the two-hour hearing. Commissioners received nearly 300 e-mails, phone calls and letters asking them to approve a ban.
A petition with 400 signatures favoring the ban was turned in by the Clean Water Action lobbying group. Summit County is a resort community, not a mining community anymore, residents said.
Not only did the BOCC ban cyanide, it banned other toxic and acidic ore-processing reagents from being used at mines.
“I’m disappointed in the commissioners’ vote today. Usually county commissioners follow their planning commission’s vote,” said Scott Lewis, manager of environmental programs for Anglogold North America.
“As we tried to tell them, heap leach mining with cyanide can be done successfully. The technology, although complicated, exists to do it safely.”
The ban not only prevents future mineral development, it also sets a precedent for banning any legitimate business activities, such as dry cleaning, agriculture and snow-making, said Stuart Sanderson, president of the Colorado Mining Association.
“The commissioners caved in to the demands of national anti-mining extremists, who have failed on three occasions to secure the enactment of a statewide ban on modern gold mining,” Sanderson said.
The Summit County Democrats and the Blue River chapter of the Sierra Club asked the BOCC to ban heap leach mining with cyanide.
“Our rationale is that a mining project which uses technology that historically has been unable to safeguard adjacent water supplies from toxic contamination is not in the best interests of the citizens of Summit County and the visiting public,” said Democrats chairman Sandy Briggs.
Briggs and others referred to the Summitville mining disaster in the San Juans and others that polluted Colorado rivers, costing taxpayers millions of dollars.
Mining advocates said state laws that were passed after Summitville are working.
Long said he initially thought he would vote to allow cyanide heap leach mining. Then he weighed the research and he considered the implications.
“This ban just means we’re in a holding pattern until we can guarantee there won’t be any damage to waterways,” Long said.
State and federal agencies already regulate mining operations and allow cyanide heap leach mining.
The county’s ban violates the state and federal laws, said Dianna Orf of the Colorado Mining Association.
Some residents at the hearing said they were more worried about toxic household chemicals than cyanide used in mining.
Christine McManus can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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