Sediment and mine waste cover the Fairplay beach area

This picture shows the accidental discharge of sediment from the Alma Placer Mine Oct. 3. The mine was fined by the Colorado Mine Land Reclamation Board at a Nov. 19 Fairplay Trustees board meeting. (Photo courtesy of South Park Coalition)

On the morning of Oct. 3, Alma Placer Mine operations resulted in the discharge of sediment into the Middle Fork of the South Platte River. At the Nov. 19 meeting of the Colorado Mine Land Reclamation Board, the mine was fined $48,000, with a penalty assessment reduced to $5,000, for violations of mining operations.

The mine operator, Jim Murray of High Mountain Mining, LLC, was informed by the CMRB on Oct. 16 that they believed wash water from pond four back-flowed through the fresh water intake pipe into the river.

The CMRB determined that the mine was in violation of statutes and regulations in regards to a discharge of sediment into the river. Sediment was discovered at Fairplay Beach and in other areas downstream from the mine.

The Flume asked Murray what steps had the mine taken to prevent a possible future back-flow into the river.

“We’ve met with the CMRB, we had the hearing and we immediately implemented procedures,” Murray said. “We repositioned the pipe that was the cause of the flow, installed a check gate and retrained the staff.”

Murray said that the company has offered to work under the direction of Colorado Parks and Wildlife for restocking brown trout in the river if needed.

In 2013, the town spent more than $170,000 to dredge the reservoir at Fairplay Beach of a 20-year buildup of sediment. The town did not anticipate additional sediment to fill the reservoir at the rapid rate that was caused by the mine release.

Fairplay and the Park County governments sent a joint letter to the CMRB Nov. 6, ahead of the Nov. 19 meeting. The town was looking for additional money to offset the cost of the sediment release from the mine. The letter read in part:

“If the owner/operator of the Alma Placer Mine is found to be in violation of CRS 34-32-116(7) (g&h) and/or CRS 34-32-124, please consider that any monetary amount of a fine be used to address the observed increased sediment load to the Reservoir at Fairplay Beach, the lack of any aquatic invertebrate baseline data collected by CP&W in relationship to this segment of the Middle Fork South Platte River, and the unknown potential impact to the brown trout population in the same river segment and the Fairplay Beach.”

The request for funds was not addressed at the meeting but CMRB indicated that any penalty assessments would be additions to the state general fund rather than compensation for local damages.

In a separate but related matter, Richard Hamilton of the South Park Coalition filed a notice of intent to open a civil action under the provisions of the Clean Water Act in federal district court against the mine for discharging pollutants into the river.

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