The Fremont County Commissioners on Tuesday voted to approve an amendment to a conditional use permit in the Tallahassee area northwest of Cañon City allowing Black Range Minerals (BRM) to expand its uranium exploration into the South T-Bar Ranch to include another 2,220 acres. The Commissioners approved the permit amendment on a 2-1 split vote with Commissioner Mike Stiehl voting against the amendment.
Black Range initially began exploration on the nearby Taylor Ranch under a permit issued by the Commission in 2008 but the company said only six test wells were drilled. Black Range wants to determine if it would be economically viable to mine for ore on both the Taylor Ranch as well as the Hansen Deposit south of it on South T-Bar.
In voting to approve the resolution the Commissioners adopted a set of 34 conditions many of which focus on baseline water monitoring for both surface and groundwater in the surrounding area. The baseline water monitoring addresses both domestic wells in the area plus monitoring wells drilled by BRM.
BRM Manager Ben Vallerine asked the Commissioners to consider altering the condition requiring both spring and fall water sampling of the wells in the testing program. Vallerine said annual well monitoring and analysis would provide ample data for the testing program. Commissioner Larry Lasha said the recommendation from the county’s hydrogeologist, Bruce Smith of Western Water and Land, was for twice a year sampling and the Commissioners are quite comfortable with that recommendation given the concerns expressed by neighbors in the Tallahassee area.
Commission Chairman Ed Norden said many counties in Colorado don’t even require permits for prospecting. He commended the efforts by Black Range and their hydrologist to design a volunteer water sampling program that was endorsed by the county’s water consultant which served as a guide in developing the county’s conditions in the permit. Norden said the stringent conditions may be unprecedented for prospecting and exploration in Colorado.
Norden added that the Commissioners did not negotiate the final language of the conditions with BRM but that as with any conditional use permit, the applicant was given an opportunity to react and comment on the proposed conditions over the last two weeks which set in place the final language that was adopted.
Regarding his dissenting vote, Commissioner Mike Stiehl said the Commission had gone beyond the conditions crafted the first time around and believes the board has done a better job of protecting our water. Of his ‘No’ vote Stiehl said he had a quarrel with a few of the items detailed in the conditions but overall supports the conditions put in place by the board.
Asked when Black Range might resume drilling operations on the Taylor Ranch and South T-Bar, Commissioner Norden said the conditions also require the applicant to complete one round of domestic well sampling before the resumption of any drilling activity. Norden said another condition that the board included was to require Black Range to provide all non-confidential data on the baseline water monitoring to Fremont County at the conclusion of the exploration to ensure there is a historical public record of water monitoring in the area.