Mining regulations recommended, except cyanide ban |

Mining regulations recommended, except cyanide ban

Christine McManus/Special to the Daily

Countywide Planning Commission members voted 4-3 late Monday night in to recommend that the Board of County Commissioners require all mining operations that want to use cyanide to ask for a permit.

“I panicked when I first heard the word cyanide, just like many other uninformed residents out there,” said planning commissioner Rodney Allen. “Although my heart and soul wants to ban cyanide mining, I haven’t heard anything convincing me that mining companies cannot do it responsibly.”

He said property owners have property rights.

Planning commissioners reviewed the issue for four hours. One dozen Summit County residents said they wanted cyanide banned. Mining executives and environmentalists from Denver offered their opinions, against and for the ban, respectively.

“People are not investing $3 million in the restoration of the Blue River just for the hell of it. There are a lot of fishermen who come to Summit County,” said Andy Gentry, president of the Gore Range chapter of Trout Unlimited, which includes Summit County members.

“I’m sure there are responsible mining companies out there, but it only takes one person, or one recreational miner who doesn’t have the scientific background to kill the river,” he said.

Summit County does not have mining regulations currently. The state can monitor mine reclamations. State and federal agents administer the Clean Water and Clean Air acts. The county’s role comes in with land-use regulations.

The recommendations from the appointed countywide planning commission will soon be reviewed and voted on by County Commissioners Gary Lindstrom, Tom Long and Bill Wallace. No public hearing date is scheduled yet.

Although the planning commission was split on the cyanide issue, seven commissioners voted unanimously to recommend the rest of the proposed mining regulations.

If approved by the county commissioners, such regulations could give the county control over mining roads, air and water pollution, noise, traffic and other off-site impacts of proposed mines.

Although the cyanide issue dominated the debate, the most significant recommendation was to require conditional-use permit applications at all mines, even in mining zones, said Jim Curnutte, the county’s planning director.

A conditional-use permit means that while a property might be zoned for mining, the impacts might have to be reduced. The county also would have the ability to turn down an application, whereas before, only the state and federal governments regulated mines.

The Climax Mine carries state permits already, Curnutte said.

Depending on the details of the permits, and what laws the commissioners pass, Climax officials may or may not have to ask for additional permission to use cyanide in mining molybdenum.

Cyanide is used to filter out impurities from the molybdenum. The metal, meanwhile, is used to harden steel, in paint products and to help remove sulfur from crude oil, said Bryce Romig, environmental manager for the Climax Molybdenum Company.

Colorado environmentalists who are trying to ban cyanide-processing techniques were unsuccessful at the state level earlier this year.

They are taking the issues to the counties. By coincidence, Summit County was in the process of writing the county’s first mining regulations.

Mining is one of Colorado’s top revenue generators and was the only industry that did not lay off workers in 2002, said Stuart Sanderson, president of the Colorado Mining Association.

Mine tailings left over from the county’s historic gold and silver rush days might have traces of gold or silver that could now be profitably processed using more modern techniques, such as cyanide ore processing, Curnutte said.

Mining companies looking for gold and silver today leach cyanide through mine tailings to separate the precious metals from the ore. The cyanide trickles through massive piles of ore, collecting gold and silver on a heap pad. The cyanide mixture collects in a lined pond where gold or silver is separated.

Planning commissioners who voted in favor of the conditional permit for cyanide-processing mines included Gary Wilkinson, Glenn Vawter, Kathy Hilton and Rodney Allen. Those who voted to ban cyanide mining altogether included Tom Smith, Mike Lakritz and Mark Thompson. Commissioners Bobby Craig and George Malloy were absent.

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