Deadline set to remove mine waste, revegetate sites
By Summit Voice
An attempt by Gold Eagle Mining Inc, to delay closure of the mines for another five years was successfully challenged by a watchdog group. The mines, have been idle for three decades, despite a state law that requires uranium mines to be reclaimed and closed a maximum of 10 years after mining ceases.
Three of the mines are located in Slick Rock, directly adjacent to the Dolores River. A fourth mine is located on the slopes above the picturesque Paradox Valley. Multiple documents relating to the mines, including copies of inspection reports and warning letters from the state, are posted here.
None of the mines has an environmental protection plan in place, as required by a 2008 state law. Colorado State Rep. Don Coram, who represents the 58th District in the Colorado House, is president of Gold Eagle Mining Inc., which leases the mines from the Department of Energy and operates them under a permit from the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining & Safety.
INFORM has pressed the state to address the permit status of numerous uranium mines on the Western Slope, which have been allowed to keep their permits and delay cleanup activities, often for decades.
“These mines shut their doors long ago, after the uranium crash of 1980, and have posed substantial risks to the environment since,” said Jennifer Thurston, director of INFORM. “The mines at Slick Rock lack even the most basic safeguards to prevent the movement of radioactive and toxic waste materials off-site and into the river. By taking measures to ensure that the responsible company cleans them up and operates as required by law, the state has taken an action that will directly improve the health of the Dolores River and reduce the impacts that these neglected uranium mines represent.”
“Colorado law requires any mines that lay idle for more than 10 years to fully comply with reclamation requirements,” said Jeff Parsons, an attorney with Western Mining Action Project in Lyons, Colo., which represented INFORM in the matter. “We’re pleased to see the Division enforce the law in response to INFORM’s protest. In the case of Gold Eagle Mining, the state appeared poised to allow this company another five years to avoid final reclamation, so we are pleased that they are now ordering these mines to be cleaned up.”
The order to Gold Eagle Mining stems from the state’s implementation of HB 08-1161, a state law passed in 2008 that required, for the first time, all uranium mines to submit environmental protection plans and meet current standards for operating, including reclamation. Gold Eagle Mining failed to submit completed environmental protection plans as required on Oct. 1, 2012, despite numerous requests from the state to do so. When Gold Eagle did eventually submit new plans, they were deemed to be inadequate. Gold Eagle Mining then requested another five-year period of temporary cessation, which would have allowed the mines to remain unaddressed.
“The problem of long-idled and unreclaimed uranium mines is a very serious one on the Western Slope,” Thurston said. “For years, regulators have recognized the noncompliance with the law at many of these sites and yet have not ordered full reclamation. These ‘zombie mines’ pose significant risks to the environment and have very little chance of ever producing ore again. Reclaiming these mines not only protects the environment, but provides immediate jobs and improves the land’s ability to support the recreation and conservation-based economy that we depend on.”
The three mines at Slick Rock are the Burros, the Ellison and the Hawkeye, located next to the Dolores River in western San Miguel County, and are frequently viewed by boaters and other recreationists. The JD-5 Mine is located on Monogram Mesa in western Montrose County. All of Gold Eagle Mining’s permitted mine sites are on public lands owned by the BLM and leased through the Department of Energy’s uranium leasing program. INFORM is a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit that required the DOE to conduct a much-needed comprehensive impacts study of uranium mining on the Western Slope –– including these mines –– that was released in March.