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Publish Date: 8/4/2010

Planning Commission tables Black Range discussion

The Fremont county Planning Commission, Tuesday, tabled a request from Black Range Minerals to amend its current conditional use permit to allow for expansion of mineral exploration.

The request was met with much opposition and hesitance by concerned citizens.

“Basically what we are applying for today is also a modification,” said Ben Vallerine, exploration manager-USA, Black Range Minerals, “so the activity we are talking about today is already permitted; it’s already occurring out there — it’s already occurred — so there shouldn’t be a great deal of negative impact.”

Black Range currently is permitted for 8,169 acres in the Tallahassee area, and the amendment would add 2,210 acres, which would bring the total to 10,379 acres, said Marshall Butler, planning coordinator.

Butler said the property is zoned agricultural forestry and the permit would be for eight years.

Lee Alter, chairman for the TAC government affairs committee said the commissioners should not consider the proposed amendment until they receive more information.

“By far, the most significant reason why our commissioners should command additional information prior to consideration of this application is that the single most troubling aspect of the 2008 CUP still has not yet been adequately answered,” he said. “Until it is, it would be irresponsible of the county to permit additional exploration drilling.”

Some meeting attendees feel the project requires a whole new CUP application.

“Essentially, what they have done, is photocopy the 2008 application, made some remarks – footnotes — and submitted it to you saying ‘this is just a continuation of what we’re doing,’ but it’s really not a continuation of what they are doing,” said Michael Meyrick. “Aside from the fact that it shares some common boundaries with the prior Taylor Ranch CUP, it’s really very different. It involves different landowners, it involves people who own mineral rights who are different from those in the 2008 CUP application… it involves access from different county roads.”

Ed Franz said he believes BRM has not performed as they said they promised, and as a result, they are endangering the health and safety of the public.

“Water test data indicates that area water wells have been damaged by uranium exploration activity,” he said. “It is my opinion and belief…that all individuals and entities involved in the uranium exploration activities – past and present – should be held accountable to the maximum extent possible for damages.”

He said a process should be established to compensate landowners for damages to water and property value before additional exploration is considered.

Sharyn Cunningham said once water is contaminated, it never goes away.

“I think there is some new evidence now that BRM has affected the water quality in the area where they have done the exploration and areas bordering it,” she said. “The county should have time to really evaluate that before moving forward.”

She said that adding a new exploration area gives an opportunity now to do water sampling before exploration starts.

“So then a year down the road, or two years down the road, you can tell if the water is increasing in contamination,” she said. “And I believe county regulations for the permit allow for this baseline monitoring requirement.”

Paul Maye said people from all parts of the county were represented in Tuesday’s meeting to address the issue.

“It’s because of the overarching issue,” he said. “We have all run into the common question when mining interests come together and get close in proximity with residential areas.”

Maye said a safe buffer zone and distance needs to be determined between mining industry and residential development.

Kay Hawklee said the USGS is maintaining a water quality data base for selected study areas in Colorado, she said the data base combines water quality data from the USGS National Water Information System and the US EPA store-it data bases.

“It turns out that the Tallahassee area was one of those selected study areas,” Hawklee said. “There really is a true water quality base line that was taken by USGS in 1976 and again in 1978, which is prior to any exploration in the Tallahassee area.”

Hawklee said in 1976, 17 samples were taken by the USGS and only one exceeded the uranium standards. She added that in 1976, Autumn Creek was not contaminated.

In 1978, Hawklee said 25 water samples were taken and, and of those, two were contaminated – the Taylor Soda Spring had 38 micrograms per liter. In 1979, 700 holes were explored on the Taylor Ranch, and in 1980, the uranium had increased to 110 micrograms per liter in two years.

“In between those two samples, uranium exploration took place,” she said. “We believe that the soda that leeches from Taylor Soda Springs helps to mobilize uranium in the area.”

Hawklee added the Mining Reclamation Board suggested updating the rules for prospecting, which will meet Aug. 12.

Vallerine said no decisions may occur on Aug. 12, or even six months from now.

“Everything you need that would go in to a new CUP application is currently in my modified CUP application,” he said. “If we can’t begin this in two months time, three months time, we cannot drill, end of story.”

The board tabled the issue so more information can be gathered and the two absent board members have a chance to review the minutes from Tuesday’s meeting. The next planning commission will be Sept. 8 at 4 p.m. at the Fremont County Administration building.

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