Judge Groome recently dismissed Save South Park and individually named residents’ lawsuit alleging that the Board of County Commissioners violated Colorado’s Open Meetings laws by formulating a resolution approving High Speed Mining’s (Gold Rush) request to change the zoning for a 28-acre parcel from residential to mining.
In a press release (see The Flume, Sept. 21 issue), County Administrator Tom Eisenman stated that the plaintiffs’ challenge was “groundless and frivolous” and implies that plaintiffs were ordered to pay a portion of the county’s attorneys fees because three of the claims and a motion were “frivolous.” Eisenman’s press release and implications are flat wrong.
First, SSP hopes Eisenman’s implications were not meant to be a veiled threat to residents; i.e., “You sue the county and we will seek fees from you.”
The award of attorney’s fees was a sanction against SSP’s former lawyer, Daniel Theodoru, for filing a frivolous motion and asserting groundless claims in the initial complaint.
The judge specifically found that the individual plaintiffs were not responsible for this frivolity and were not ordered to pay any fees. Moreover, he found that plaintiffs’ challenge to the zoning issue was valid but did not have evidentiary support in the record.
Stated another way, the claim was valid but did not have evidentiary support – a far cry from “groundless and frivolous.”
Elements of Groome’s decision still raise issues for appeal. For example, he found that the 11 conditions imposed by the BOCC were properly formulated during a “public work session.”
There is no evidence in the record to support the assertion that these conditions were formulated during a public work session.
One might reasonably ask: What do SSP and the plaintiffs want?
Our concern arises out of the culture and legacy left by gold mining: unhealthy and ugly threats to the environment and the residents who live here.
Modern mining equipment allows formerly abandoned dredge and hydraulic gold fields and rock tailings to be re-purposed, exposing the environment and residents to mercury contamination entombed in these rock piles since they were abandoned decades ago.
But, the county doesn’t seem to care. It has the legal authority to develop its own “home rule” regulations for mining, but has chosen not to do so.
The emergence of aggressive mining activity throughout the county is apparent, but the county seems to approach mining with a hands-off attitude.
Case in point is High Speed’s site. One of the county’s 11 conditions imposed on High Speed was that it complies with all representations it set forth in its application for the zoning change.
One of those pledges was that it would not conduct any mining activity on Phase Two or Three until it had completed and reclaimed Phase One.
Thirteen months later, we find mining activity on all three phases of the site, without an iota of reclamation, but no county official seems to care.
Residents have called the county manager’s office, the Building Department and the Sheriff’s office to complain. These offices point to each other as the office responsible for enforcing these conditions.
When our elected and appointed officials don’t care, mining activity has become unruly, destructive and harmful to our environmental health, public safety and the South Park’s aesthetic beauty.
SSP stands ready to and has worked with the Planning Commission to develop regulations for contemporary mining activity. But Eisenman and the commissioners don’t seem to care. They consider SSP and its supporters’ concerns to be “groundless and frivolous.”