Roughly two months after Cross and Caribou mine operators were issued a cease-and-desist order for alleged heavy metal water pollution, the company responded by slapping Nederland town officials with a cease-and-desist order of their own. 

The unorthodox move came as tensions flared between concerned locals and Grand Island Resources, the company that owns the Cross and Caribou mines located in unincorporated Boulder County. The ongoing concerns stem in large part from recent allegations by the state Water Quality Control Division that Grand Island Resources was in repeated violation for heavy metal effluent discharges. 

Trish Zornio (Photo by Holly Hursley Photography)

Yesterday, the mining company was fined $5,000 for the excess effluent discharges – a reduction from the original $17,000 fine – based on the perceived “good faith” efforts of Grand Island Resources to address the hazardous pollutants.

Yet the cease-and-desist order that threatens a half-billion dollar lawsuit against Nederland town officials still stands, based on allegations of “malicious or recklessly untruthful statements” by Mayor Kris Larsen and members of the Board of Trustees about the mine. 

There’s just one problem: The cease-and-desist order offers zero tangible proof of such behaviors. 

To date, the primary evidence offered includes only a vague statement of belief that slander has been engaged in and reference to an anonymous “libelous Nederland poster.” 

Neither is credible evidence of malice by town officials.

The allegations also stand in stark opposition to publicly available statements by town officials, and searches of Facebook pages, public meetings records and open records yielded no readily available conspiracy or disparaging comments against the mine by town officials. The anonymously created “libelous Nederland poster” is also easily found on telephone poles throughout Boulder County, including well outside of Nederland town lines.

While there doesn’t appear to be any proof of slander by officials to date, a pattern of concerning engagements by mining representatives in town affairs was identified during open records requests.

The first was an unusual demand embedded at the end of the cease-and-desist order. The demand stated that mining representatives must be included as panelists at an upcoming public town hall on the mine, otherwise the public town hall must be canceled. 

This request has been denied, and the public meeting in collaboration with Boulder County is set to proceed on Tuesday. Members of the public are invited to attend and submit questions in advance. Details can be found on the town’s official calendar.

Second, a series of emails to Nederland officials by Grand Island Resources legal counsel Ed Byrne – the same company representative who issued the cease-and-desist order – appeared to be aimed at meddling in local politics.

Byrne, who is a long-time Boulder resident with no known voting status in Nederland, stated his formal objection to Mayor Kris Larsen running for the Board of Trustees in 2022. No context for his objections outside of his active representation of Grand Island Operations is indicated.

The combined tactics of a half-billion dollar legal threat, the appearance of political interference and efforts to stymie public engagement are leaving a highly negative impression on locals. None contacted would speak on the record, citing fear of a lawsuit or other retaliation by the mine.

One resident downstream of the mine claimed on the condition of anonymity that their well had recently been tested within acceptable lead levels by the Environmental Protection Agency, although the levels were still noted to be above the preferred range. The resident claimed the level was higher than when the well was tested six years ago.

The resident also says that explains their interest in wanting to engage in future permitting discussions, especially as they say much of the available testing provided to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment appears to be self-reported by the mine.

The strong-arm tactics against the town ultimately appear not only misdirected – Nederland is not responsible for the water quality violation issued – but questionable in timing. The mine is currently being subjected to ongoing water quality reviews by the state, as well as possible expansion of permits. 

That raises the question of whether such dubious tactics are meant to keep otherwise reasonably concerned citizens quiet. If so, based on the silence from Nederland officials, Boulder County commissioners and residents, it appears to be working.

Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.

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Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado. Trish can be found on Twitter @trish_zornio