RIDGWAY – More than 20 concerned citizens attended Monday’s meeting of the Ouray County commissioners to voice opposition to making any possible changes to the definition of mineral operation in the county Land Use Code.
Up for discussion: The definition of mineral operation as defined in Section 22 of the LUC, which is currently defined as “any site development and/or exploration that result[s] in surface disturbance of one acre or more and extraction or processing of minerals other than underground mining, oil, gas and gravel operations.”
No changes to the existing definition were made at Monday’s meeting.
But from the commissioners’ point of view, the LUC’s current definition offers no way to mitigate potential impacts of mineral operations causing less than one acre of surface disturbance.
For example, the Mount Sneffels Mining Co. recently reduced its exploratory gold and silver drilling plan in the Yankee Boy Basin and Sneffels Creek drainage areas to a total disturbance area of less than one acre, thus avoiding the county’s Special Use Permit process altogether – this despite the fact that their exploratory plan would use county roads to access the drilling sites.
The commissioners’ reaction was to direct county staff to investigate why the one-acre size area is specified in the LUC’s mineral operations definition.
The result: We “looked back through minutes and couldn’t find when that was put on or why the one acre delineation was put in,” County Attorney Mary Deganhart reported back.
Because of that lack of information, a working definition was drafted for Monday’s discussion, stating that a mineral operation is “any site development, exploration, extraction or processing of minerals other than underground mining and oil, gas, and sand and gravel operations.”
“No-one has proposed changing the definition of hardrock mining,” Commissioner Heidi Albritton reassured those gathered to protest possible changes to the LUC.
She explained that any changes to the LUC would refer distinctly to mineral operation, not to underground hardrock mining, which is a use-by-right in Ouray County.
“Nobody is talking about changing that use-by-right,” Albritton emphasized.
While some in the audience conceded there had might have been a misunderstanding, mining representatives voiced concern that the county might be embarking on a path that would, ultimately, lead to new regulations on mining activity.
“We are an industry of professionals and we take pride in what we do,” emphasized Chris Brown. “Technology has changed dramatically. Drills are cleaner. Sites are cleaner. Regulation is much stricter. “We are an industry of professionals and we take pride in what we do.”
“I don’t know why are you are trying to make up more regulations,” added Ronald Williams.
“I read some of the stuff in the paper,” said resident Steve Duce, and “I never hear the county commissioners say anything about helping the mining industry or promoting it around here. All I hear is regulatory things.”
Commissioner Keith Meinert explained that because the Special Use Process is the county’s only mechanism for discharging its regulatory responsibility, and that, if the definition of mineral operation in the LUC is changed to expand the county’s regulatory authority to operations impacting less than one acre, it will not serve to stop any mining activity.
“The regulation I am thinking of is not to shut down an industry – it could even help facilitate economic development,” Meinert said. “If you have the impression that we are anti-mining, it is absolutely not the case. When we do have this discussion rescheduled in May, we encourage participation in it.”
Further discussion about the possibility of changing the LUC’s definition for mineral operation was tabled, pending discussion at a work session, sometime in May.