State regulators and owners of the Cross and Caribou Mine near Nederland showed pictures of containment ponds, water filtration equipment and other projects the mine is carrying out in order to comply with a cease and desist order and continue cleaning up mine waste, shown on Jan. 19, 2022. (Screenshot of Mined Land Reclamation Board hearing)

The state Mined Land Reclamation Board imposed a $17,000 fine on owners of the Cross and Caribou mines for water quality violations, but suspended all but $5,000 of the penalty as long as Grand Island Resources continues “good faith” efforts to install containment and cleanup equipment.

The state agency’s staff largely endorsed the mining company’s presentation detailing completion of a filtration system for any water emitted from the historic mine above Nederland, and said they would continue on-site review of the improvements and water sampling. 

“We do acknowledge that the operator has taken a number of different actions to bring the site back into compliance,” said Michael Cunningham, an environmental protection specialist with the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, which provides staff to the mining board. 

The state board was reviewing a cease and desist order issued late in 2021 that said mine owners failed to make some required pollutant reports in March and April. When the state looked deeper, it found pollutant violations in those months, but also more alleged violations before and after, from December 2020 to last August. Violations included excessive traces of heavy metals, including copper and lead, that can be dangerous to aquatic and human health. 

The state’s order charged the mine with violating the Colorado Water Quality Control Act. Water quality officials ordered the owners to build a new containment and cleanup system, and said it would determine the levels of fines in January.  

Ed Byrne, an attorney for Grand Island Resources, said the company is satisfied with the outcome of the hearing. “Staff for the MLRB acknowledged the progress that has been made and the compliance that is now being achieved,” he said.

The company will keep working with state and local officials to fully comply with permits, Byrne added. 

An attorney for Save the Colorado, a nonprofit environmental group that is monitoring the mine, said the testimony before the board shows the mine appears to have remedied some pollution problems.

“Hopefully, it can also have sufficient treatment in place in time to handle the more significant spring runoff flows,” said Jeffrey Parsons, senior attorney with the Western Mining Action Project, which is working with the river group. Save the Colorado is a parent organization to Boulder Waterkeeper, which seeks protections for Boulder watershed streams. 

Save the Colorado still wants the board to declare Cross and Caribou a “designated mining operation,” a more stringent regulatory category that could impose more environmental reviews and “go a long way to making sure the heavy metal pollution levels are kept in check for the longer term,” Parsons said. 

Cross and Caribou is not currently producing gold ore, but the company has a permit to build an ore processing facility and says it has been spending millions of dollars rebuilding tunnels and cleaning up past mine operations. 

Grand Island said it will also continue to work with Boulder County, City of Boulder and Nederland, though the company has also warned Nederland town officials that it believes they have been unfairly defaming the mine.

Michael Booth is The Sun’s environment writer, and co-author of The Sun’s weekly climate and health newsletter The Temperature. He and John Ingold host the weekly Sun-Up podcast on The Temperature topics every Thursday. He is co-author with...