With biomass mothballed, Climax Mine takes in Summit’s wood chips | SummitDaily.com

With biomass mothballed, Climax Mine takes in Summit’s wood chips

Elise Reuter
ereuter@summitdaily.com

After collecting record amounts of slash last summer, Summit County will haul 6,500 cubic yards of wood chips to Climax Molybdenum to be used for mine waste reclamation.

Last year, the chips were shipped over to a biomass plant in Gypsum, where they were burned to generate electricity. However, a fire in December 2014 forced the plant to close for repairs, and two ensuing legal disputes have kept it closed since.

"The power plant has been offline for about a year," Summit County Colorado State University extension director Dan Schroder said. "Everybody was left sitting on the chips."

When Climax Mine offered to take the mulch, the county was able to uphold their share of a grant, which required that the waste be used for a beneficial end.

"They've emerged as a great partner," Schroder said, adding that Climax Mine agreed to partner with the county with the program in future years.

The molybdenum mine requests 10,000 cubic yards of wood per year for its mine waste reclamation program. The wood chips are composted and used as an agent in cleaning up mine waste, which can involve re-vegetating soil disturbed by the mining process, or containing heavy metals that have been expelled from deep within the earth.

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In addition, the shorter driving distance in transporting the chips to Climax, rather than Gypsum, will also be advantageous.

"We feel this purpose climax is using it to reclaim environmental impacts to mining is a real positive as well," Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs said. "We're happy to play our part in utilizing those woodchips."

The county has expanded its chipping program significantly since it first launched in 2014. While last year saw 1,486 homes participate, this year 1,969 homeowners set out slash piles. Crews also collected thousands more yards of chips, increasing from 4,400 to 6,500 yards.

"That's that much less wildfire fuel in our neighborhoods," Schroder said.

He added that looking at a GIS map, the program appeared to spread from neighbor to neighbor.

"We feel this is a groundswell making its way through neighborhoods," he added. "It's just gaining momentum."

FUNDING FIRE EDUCATION

Last year's program was funded in part by a $100,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. The county was able to match this grant thanks to a mill levy approved by voters in 2008 for wildfire mitigation.

As Colorado pulls together next year's budget, local officials are waiting to see if the state will continue to support wildfire prevention funds under the Department of Natural Resources. Schroder said that if the funds are renewed for next year, then the county would once again receive support from the state for its chipping program.

"Regardless, we've been doing this work for a number of years and we expect to be able to continue it in 2016 in some way, shape or form," Schroder said. "I think (the program) really helps people act on the information that they've learned about."

He said that education was a key part of the program, helping homeowners understand the link between fire danger and flammable vegetation. He said the goal of the chipping program was to help remove potential sources of fuel for a fire within 30 feet of properties.

"If we can keep fire out of our neighborhoods, our homes and our communities could be quite a bit safer," he added.

The chipping program also provides fire departments an opportunity to engage neighbors directly in conversations about wildfire preparedness. In addition, Schroder encouraged Summit County residents to reach out to their local department and ask for a home assessment, to create a plan for fire-proofing their homes.