Greens urging ban on open-pit cyanide mining |

Greens urging ban on open-pit cyanide mining

SUMMIT COUNTY – Representatives from Clean Water Action spent Thursday and Friday knocking on the doors of Summit County residents to discuss open-pit gold mining issues.But some local officials believe they’re wasting their time.Clean Water Action, the state’s largest citizen environmental organization, wants residents to write their county commissioners and encourage them to support new land-use regulations that would ban gold mines that use cyanide – or at least raise the burden of proof that the mining industry won’t pollute the environment and put the public at risk.”Despite the mining industry’s promises, the industry hasn’t practiced cyanide-leach mining safely,” said Carmi McLean, director of Clean Water Action. “Cyanide spills have poisoned rivers, contaminated drinking water supplies, killed fish and aquatic wildlife and poisoned people.”McLean said legislation approved in 1993 doesn’t address water quality problems associated with such mines and does nothing to prevent other problems at other sites.County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom disagrees.”It is not now, never has been and never will be an issue here,” he said. “Groups have proposed similar legislation in the past two or three years, and it’s never gone anywhere. Every year, we get people asking us to support a ban, but it’s not something we think is that important.”Cyanide is a toxic compound used to separate gold and silver from ore. In open-pit mining, miners dig enormous pits, pile ore into huge heaps and spray the cyanide solution over the rubble, where it bonds to gold. A blanket under the pile channels the solution into a holding pond where the gold is extracted. The cyanide is separated and used again.The worst mining disaster in the nation took place at the Summitville Gold Mine, where miners used cyanide to separate gold from other debris. Spills there poisoned 17 miles of the Alamosa River and endangered agricultural crops. The company that operated the mine, Canadian Galactic Mining Co., fled the state, abandoned the site and filed for bankruptcy.To date, taxpayers have paid more than $180 million to clean up the site.The only open-pit cyanide gold mine currently in operation in Colorado is the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mine, which has been cited by the Environmental Protection Agency for violating Clean Water Act permits.Overall, however, the mining industry abides by regulations, Lindstrom said.”It’s always been done that way,” he said of the cyanide leaching process. “People who use that process are very careful. I have a very high comfort level with environmental laws and mining practices that would do anything that would be detrimental to the environment.”A bill that would have banned new open-pit cyanide mines was killed in committee during the past session.”Clearly, it is up to local communities to protect their citizens from this dangerous practice,” McLean said. “As the price of gold continues to rise, the mining industry will take a serious look at abandoned mines in Summit County to re-mine low-grade ore.”Lindstrom agreed there is always the chance someone might want to reopen some mines in Summit County and mine them. The only mine-related activity currently being conducted in the county is exploratory drilling near Montezuma. The Country Boy Mine in French Gulch is considered an active mine, although it is arguably better known for its tours. And a man is working with the U.S. Forest Service to get approval to extract ore from an old mine near Hoosier Pass, but those discussions aren’t going anywhere fast, Lindstrom said.Also, most of Summit County’s mines are in the hands of the Forest Service, private owners or designated as open space.Jane Stebbins can be reachedat (970) 668-3998 ext. 228

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