The Colorado mining board extended closure of an allegedly illegal mining and milling operation near Rocky Flats that inspectors say threatens Jefferson County watersheds, adding a fine up to $12,000 and ordering the owners to apply for a state permit and post cleanup funds.
In a contentious hearing Wednesday in front of the Mined Land Reclamation Board, mining division staff said Rocky Flats Environmental Solutions are flouting environmental laws, while the owners claimed they are suing a division inspector in federal court and call the enforcement part of a vendetta.
The milling site, which has taken tons of ore from spent or current Colorado gold mines, is “quite the opposite” of the required sound and stable operation, one inspector told the board. State laws are meant to protect wildlife, water and public health, inspector Michael Cunningham said, and “with these individuals, I do not believe that they share those goals.”
The site’s co-owners were adamant that state mining laws requiring a permit do not apply to them, since they are an offsite milling and assay operation working on environmental cleanup for distant mines. Co-owner Dave Emslie said the company’s relations with inspectors from the EPA and other state agencies are fine, and that Cunningham and the state mining division are personally hostile to them.
The board unanimously took the side of state inspectors, and urged the owners to keep personal accusations or mentions of lawsuits out of the enforcement proceeding, which was held remotely.
The Mined Land Reclamation Board and its inspectors are working with Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment water quality experts and other agencies to protect local community watersheds that might be threatened by chemical leaks, Department of Natural Resources spokesman Chris Arend said this month.
In a 22-page report from a July visit noting multiple alleged violations, state inspectors listed tanks with thousands of gallons of cyanide solution sitting above a concrete berm that could not enclose potential spills. Inspectors said the uncontained chemicals are a hazard to spill or leak into nearby watersheds and threaten the public and environment.
Regulators blasted the facility for a lack of emergency plans to prevent or halt a leak of dangerous chemicals. The facility is near homes and businesses off Coal Creek Canyon Road.
“The Division did not observe spill containment equipment or products, ventilation hoods, first-aid stations, eye-wash stations, or emergency showers at the Hwy 72 Mill site which would be standard safety measures in a permitted and regulated mill facility of this sort,” according to the inspection report. “Additionally, there was no secondary containment for any of the equipment or chemicals stored within the main building. A loss of process solution within the main building had the potential to flow out of the building and/or possibly into existing floor drains.”
Inspectors also told the mining board that they had tried to visit the property earlier in the year after a citizen complaint, but were turned away by the owners. They got an administrative search warrant from a Jefferson County judge to return to the property in July, with the sheriff’s department.
Arvada, one of the communities downhill from the contested milling site, has said it is working with the state to evaluate any potential environmental hazards but that its drinking water sources are far upstream in Jefferson County watersheds and are not threatened.
The owners of the facility say they use a proprietary chemical method for leaching precious metals from ore and used electronics. One owner told The Sun his methods “turn this waste into something that is useful.”
The inspectors and a representative from the state Attorney General’s Office told the board that state law is clear that milling operations are treated the same as mining operations no matter how far away they are from the original mining site, and require a permit.
The inspectors with the Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety noted 20 tons of ore on the Rocky Flats site from the Cross and Caribou Mine above Nederland, which itself was hit with a cease-and-desist order in November 2021 by the Department of Public Health and Environment after leaking heavy metals into creeks nearby. Water quality officials with the department ordered the Cross and Caribou Mine owners to build a new containment and cleanup system, and threatened to impose fines for each of multiple violations for the toxic metals and for failing to report test results.
The mining reclamation board eventually imposed a $17,000 fine on owners of the Cross and Caribou Mine 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 owners of the Nederland mine, Grand Island Resources, said they had sent small amounts of materials to the Jefferson County facility for testing. “The testing we asked Highway 72 mill site to perform for us has not been paid for or completed, while we await final approval from CDPHE,” Grand Island Resources President Daniel Takami said, in an email after the initial cease-and-desist order was disclosed.
The Rocky Flats site can be fined up to $200 a day from the date of the April citizen complaint, the mining board ruled. Rocky Flats Environmental Solutions must also post a $130,000 guarantee for any land reclamation required at the site, the board ruled.