Despite Differing Opinions on Process, Four Uranium Mines to Be Reclaimed
WESTERN COLORADO – While there are differing opinions about what led to the decision to reclaim four uranium mines in the West End owned by Gold Eagle Mining, Inc., the bottom line is that the company is moving forward in drafting plans to reclaim the mines.
The statewide mining watchdog group, INFORM (Information Network for Responsible Mining), announced on May 23 that four Gold Eagle Mining mines had been ordered into final reclamation following a successful appeal by INFORM of Gold Eagle’s request to designate the mines under temporary cessation status, which could have kept them idle for another five years.
“These mines shut their doors long ago, after the uranium crash of 1980, and have posed substantial risks to the environment since,” stated INFORM Director Jennifer Thurston in the May 23 press release. “The mines at Slick Rock lack even the most basic safeguards to prevent movement of radioactive and toxic materials off-site and into the river. By taking measures to ensure that the responsible company cleans them up and operates as required by law, the state has taken an action that will directly improve the health of the Dolores River and reduce the impacts that these neglected uranium mines represent.”
Gold Eagle Mining President Don Coram (also State District 58 Rep.) disputes INFORM’s claim that the company was ordered to reclaim the mines. Coram said the company has never been out of compliance with the Colorado Division of Reclamation and Mining, in an interview Tuesday, and that it was the company’s decision to reclaim the four uranium mines.
“First of all, Gold Eagle Mining has had no violations, and it’s not under any orders from the state,” Coram said. “We decided to go the reclamation route. It was our decision to file that. There are no state orders to clean it up.”
Semantics notwithstanding, Gold Eagle Mining’s movement toward reclamation of the four uranium mines – three located in Slick Rock near the Dolores River, and a fourth located near the Paradox Valley – is, in essence, the result of the state’s implementation of legislation passed in 2008 (HB 08-1161) stipulating that all active uranium mines must submit environmental protection plans. It forces mine operators to decide whether a mine is active or inactive; if it’s an inactive mine, reclamation must begin.
Colorado Division of Reclamation and Mining Minerals Program Supervisor Tony Waldron said the 2008 legislation requires that all uranium mines in the state become designated mining operations. As a designated mining operation, all active mines must have in place an environmental protection plan.
In early 2011, after enough time to let the 2008 legislation rules promulgate, the CDRM sent out a letter to all mine operators notifying them requirements to be in compliance with the legislation. The state agency, in its notification, laid out three alternatives for mine operators: Demonstrate that the mine is not a designated mining operation; draft and have an environmental protection plan in place or choose to reclaim the mine.
Waldron said Gold Eagle Mining initially submitted an application for a the required environmental protection plan, but the State deemed it inadequate for review, giving the mining company until December 2012 to resubmit the needed information on the application, a date that came and went without the submission of any further environmental protection plans.
Gold Eagle Mining then applied for temporary cessation status with the CDRM, awaiting the outcome of a lawsuit involving the U.S. Department of Energy, but CDRM didn’t buy it, ruling instead that the Gold Eagle Mining mines were either active, or inactive. If deemed active but in temporary cessation, they had to comply with the environmental protection plan requirement; in deemed inactive, they had to be reclaimed.
“During the review of a couple other mines applying for temporary cessation, we decided they should be considered an active mine and indicated to them that temporary cessation would not be the correct status for it to be in,” Waldron said. “They decided to reclaim the mines instead and sent us a letter notifying us of that decision. They have until May 31, 2014 to complete the reclamation and they have to provide us a plan within 60 days from now on how they plan to proceed with that.”
According to INFORM, however, the state agency would not have given Gold Eagle Mining that ultimatum had it not appealed the operator’s application for temporary cessation status. Jeff Parsons, the attorney from the Western Mining Action Project representing INFORM, said the state had Gold Eagle’s temporary cessation application on its consent agenda, and that it would have been approved had it not been for INFORM’s appeal.
“The fact is they applied for an additional five years to let the mine sit out there instead of being reclaimed,” Parsons said on Wednesday. “If INFORM had not filed those objections, it would have gone through that process and it would them five more years of inactivity, possibly 10 if they received and extension.”
Parsons said the four mines have “disturbed” land with uranium ore and uranium “waste rock” in close proximity to the Dolores river.
“When it rains those materials wash into the river,” he said. “That should be addressed immediately and not left for another five years. We are certainly looking forward to the process of their reclamation plan.”
Waldron said the CDRM did conduct inspections of the four mine sites on May 16, however. “We were unable to determine if any toxic materials were entering the Dolores River,” he said. “Certainly there were some problems identified with some erosion, but that typically happens at all of these sites.”
Waldron closed by saying many of the mine operators in the area came into compliance with the legislation by providing an environmental protection plan, while others made the decision to begin reclamation.
“What we are focused on is getting operators to make the decision to either get into DMO status or moving toward reclamation,” Waldron said. “That is what it came down to.”
Coram said Gold Eagle Mining has invested a good amount of money in the uranium mines, and emphasized his hope that they will be operational once again. Any notion that the mine operator has been in violation of regulations is unfounded, he said.
“Like I said, there have been no violations of any kind. Ever,” Coram said. “We have worked very closely with the DOE, and have worked on mining and cleanup projects throughout the region. We have been very good stewards of the land. We are not one of those evil companies that are out there. We are a local, small company trying to create some jobs, and that’s still our intent.”