A better service to their constituents, deny the zoning changes - an opinion
In the least, an unambiguous and specific operating agreement is needed
Posted: Friday, August 18, 2017 8:33 pm
by John M. Kunst, Jr., Special to The Flume
I support the Planning Commission’s recommendation to the County Commissioner’s that High Speed Aggregate’s application to change zoning from residential to mining be denied. A review of High Speed’s application finds it vague and inconsistent in critical details that are important to the community.
Consider just one element of the plan and its confusing inconsistencies, ground water. Regarding this element, the plan states: "Mining will expose ground water ... at roughly 50 feet below natural grade (Platte Drive)." Later, the plan states "The ground water table (which is the alluvial aquifer of the river) is at least 100 feet below the sluice pond bottom." In yet a later section of the plan, the operators state "Ground water may be encountered during mining but is not likely."
Other documents and testimony from the operators state that they plan to mine at least 120’ deep. Where is the ground water? Is it 50, 100 or beyond 120 feet deep? The potential for ground water degradation is vitally important to downstream residential wells and the Middle Fork of the South Platte River. However, the operators are merely guessing when it comes to determining an accurate depth for the water table at the site. The commissioners should insist that the operators drill a test well to determine the exact depth of the ground water and then determine whether the mining activity will adversely impact the ground water.
The foregoing discussion is but one example of the numerous critical inconsistencies contained in the operator’s mining plan. These inconsistencies must be resolved with clarity and precision. As an aside, who from the county has the expertise to determine whether the operators will be in compliance with their commitments? If the commissioners are inclined to grant the application because of the jobs potential, I urge that High Speed be required to enter into a clearly worded Operations and Reclamation Agreement that spells out precisely what the operators will do and cannot do in its operations.
High Speed must be required to secure their obligations with a $5 million performance bond. Such an agreement would assure county residents that mine operations would be tightly controlled with stiff penalties for violations and a precise plan for reclamation that must occur after each mining phase is completed.There would be no mining in any subsequent phase of the plan until reclamation of the mined-out phase is completed. Let’s not be deluded by the vague promise of "concurrent mining and reclamation."
The Flume’s in-depth report on the commissioner’s July 27 hearing attributes many quotes and statements to High Speed that add more inconsistencies than existed previously. My conclusion is that these operators will say and write anything that achieves their mining objective without any intention to be bound by their written, vague and inconsistent statements. When disputes arise in the future, the operators could successfully argue that the accepted plan is legally void because it is vague and imprecise. Their recent performance is "Exhibit A" to their insincerity. How many more cease and desist orders and citations from the state will it take to convince the commissioners that these operators have no commitment to our community? The operators’ lack of concern for the community is evidenced by a dose of "Gold Rush’s" Freddy Dodge snake oil. Dodge boasts about "mining tourism" as a real boon for South Park’s future.
Come on. Who wants to travel from points unknown to Fairplay to look at ugly, shifting rock piles and giant dirt piles? Put Dodge to the test. Drive along Platte Drive and attempt to enter these mine sites as a tourist. You will be greeted by an armed guard who advises it is private property, no trespassing allowed. What’s Dodge going to do? Erect bleachers along Highway 9 and charge admission?
South Park is a beautiful place where tourism, hiking, hunting and spectacular vistas abound and will continue to thrive long after the miners have abandoned the pit leaving "more scars upon the land."
Using the operator’s proposal to mine 32 acres to depths of 100 feet or more will result in the upheaval of 3+ million to 5+ million cubic yards of alluvial material. Converting these numbers to foot acres, the plan calls for moving 1,500 to 3,200-foot acres of trees, overburden, dirt, rock, gravel and sand.
I can’t begin to conceive of the number of ugly rock and dirt piles these numbers will produce. The commissioners need to ensure that these mining scraps are properly remediated once the gold is gone.
That can only be accomplished with a carefully drafted operating agreement that is unambiguous and specific about obligations, commitments, limitations, penalties, timelines and remediation requirements. A better service to their constituents is for the commissioners to deny the zoning change.