The state of Colorado and Park County in particular are rich in mineral resources. Historically, the extraction of these minerals has enriched both the state and corporate mining interests; but, unfortunately, long-abandoned operations have left many areas of the state with extremely hazardous environmental risks and legendary disasters.
Since the turn of the last century, the state has struggled to strike a balance between its stated interest in mineral extraction while protecting the environment from calamitous results.
In 1974, the General Assembly recognized that it could not effectively monitor and regulate all state mining activity from Denver and authorized all counties to enact local regulations for mining operations. Our county commissioners did just that on March 5 with its unanimous adoption of comprehensive mining regulations for Park County.
In the past, local approval to develop a mine site was virtually non-existent unless the miner was seeking a zoning change in order to mine on a site not zoned for mining. Thus, the county’s authority was limited to a zoning assessment by the Planning Department as to whether a zoning change was warranted. County Commissioners, to their credit, might have imposed a variety of conditions in order to approve a requested zoning change, but the county had no effective way to enforce the conditions.
Today, in order to acquire a local mining permit, the new regulations require the applicant to provide detailed descriptions, maps and explanations of the scope and course of mining activity contemplated under the permit. To name but a few, the environmental impact analysis section of the regulations requires the applicant to address the impact mining operations will have on the quality of air, visual sitelines, surface water, groundwater and wetland waters. Impacts on stream life, animals, terrestrial and acquatic life must be addressed, and the manner in which the operator will mitigate adverse impacts during the life of the permit.
Miners are concerned about the cost of these assessments because a lot of the information cannot be properly evaluated and validated by the county without an expert’s oversight, assessment and written approval. Residents contend that this is a just requirement since the miner is the entity that seeks to aggressively change the land and environment that he is mining. Why should county residents, through their taxes, pay for these assessments which are properly a cost of doing business?
County Manager Tom Eisenman has publicly stated that he will have to hire additional manpower, with mining and environmental expertise, to evaluate, assess and assist in determining the propriety of the application. These are all positive steps taken by the Commissioners to make certain our mineral-rich county is mined responsibly and reclaimed to a useful purpose when operations cease. Residents look forward to a new era of cooperation between miners, the county and its residents.