Opinion | Susan Knopf: Mine denied but state should be ashamed
For the Record
I sat butt-numbed through three days of hearings on the proposed Peak Materials gravel pit in the Blue River Valley north of Silverthorne.
Hallelujah! The permit was rejected unanimously! The Mined Land Reclamation Board cited concerns about water, wildlife impact and the deficient reclamation plan.
Day 1, I was shocked to hear how often Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety staff referred to themselves as “we” when they were talking about the applicant, Peak Materials.
Day 2, the board chair asked if we could wrap up rebuttals and closing arguments in the remaining 2 1/2 hours. Both Peak and the opposition spearheaded by Lower Blue Residents United said they could conclude their rebuttals. But the state mining division needed 90 minutes to rebut.
Day 3, the state only rebutted residents.
A neighbor said she could understand if the state needed time to study and integrate the residents’ scientific testimony and reconsider its conditional approval of the mining permit. No one understood why state employees opposed local Coloradans.
Esteemed scientists compellingly refuted Peak.
Laurel Stadjuhar, an engineer specializing in hydrology, challenged the Peak hydrologist’s assertion that water used by the Elk Run neighborhood is completely separate from the alluvial aquifer under the proposed mine across the street. Stadjuhar showed the alluvial aquifer is much closer to the surface than Peak alleged. She demonstrated that the cracked shale, through which Elk Run locals drill their wells, is connected to the proposed mining site. She said the Peak pits would create a basin and drain 34% of residents’ well water.
The mining pits would evaporate more water annually than all the residents consume in a year. Restoring the evaporated water with a “permanent augmentation plan” was expected to cost $180,000 every year. Who pays when the mine finishes?
I spoke on behalf of the Elk Run neighborhood. I showed my well flow rate is one-third of what it was less than 25 years ago. We can’t absorb a 34% water reduction. I have neighbors who would run dry. Some testified they drilled several wells, costing tens of thousands of dollars.
Julia Kintsch, who authored the definitive Colorado Department of Transportation wildlife migration report, stated that the mine sits in a highly traveled migration path.
Friends of the Lower Blue River, Stadjuhar and rancher Sam Gary Jr. all expressed concerns about heavy metals leaching from the pits into the Blue River. Gary and others spent millions restoring the river’s fish habitat.
Peak said the site’s topsoil is so thin that they weren’t reserving it for site reclamation. Their plan mixed topsoil with other material, contrary to state policy. No one from the state objected.
The residents’ ecologist Richard Alward, a former mining board member, said Peak’s own reports state there is 4 feet of topsoil in at least one test location. He said there is no reason to mix soil.
Alward said the reclamation plan failed to meet the state’s mandated goals and Peak’s stated goals. He listed deficiencies: failure to plant native plants, gently grade the slopes and create an irregular shoreline to support wildlife. Peak’s reclamation plan called for leaving the berms in place.
Peak tried to take credit for the Love Pit, the award-winning reclaimed gravel mining pit across from its Maryland Creek location.
Peak never operated or restored that site. When the opposition made the point, Peak’s attorney objected. Any discussion of operations at Maryland Creek or comparison to the Love Pit was prohibited by the board chair. For the record, Love Pit has shallow gradient slopes and an irregular shoreline with natural looking features and no pit walls.
State law requires the mining board to balance mining development and environmental concerns. The welfare of the people of the state of Colorado is paramount. State mining division staff didn’t appear to understand their mandate. Some seemed to be a rubber stamp for the mining industry.
State staff listed with pride former mining sites they rehabilitated costing $3.5 million in taxpayer money. Is every deficient mining and reclamation plan designed to make work for the state?
The state recommended reclamation bond was seriously deficient at $364,000 to rehabilitate 54 acres. A former Peak general manager said he expected the bond to be at least $1 million.
Mining board attorney Chuck Kooyman called resident representative Harris Sherman disrespectful for calling the plan a sham. I think they should all apologize for the disrespectful sham they tried to put over on the people of Summit County.
Susan Knopf’s column “For The Record” publishes Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Knopf lives in Silverthorne. She is a certified ski instructor and an award-winning journalist. Contact her at email@example.com.
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