Decision on residential to mining rezoning postponed until Aug. 17
Posted: Friday, August 4, 2017 2:24 pm
by Lynda James, Senior Correspondent, The Flume
The county commissioner hearing to rezone 28 acres from residential to mining for High Speed Aggregate, Inc., was postponed after the July 27 hearing at the request of High Speed.
Commissioner Mark Dowaliby had a dentist’s appointment and left the hearing before it was completed.
If only two commissioners are present for a hearing, the applicant can choose to wait on a decision until all commissioners are present.
Public comment has been closed. The rezoning decision is scheduled Aug. 17.
The planning commission recommended denying the application for not being compatible with the surrounding residential property.
High Speed Aggregate’s office is located in Greenwood Village and owned by Lance Baller.The operation is also filmed as a reality show called "Gold Rush" on the Discovery channel.
The rezoning is for three lots that total 41.5 acres. The Middle Fork of the South Platte River runs along the northern boundary of two lots.
The land is adjacent to the Town of Fairplay, other mining zoned properties and residential subdivisions.
Two of the three lots are around 20 acres each. Both have had split zoning of mining on the north side and residential on the south side since the very first zoning map in 1975.
High Speed is operating a gold recovery open pit mine on the mining zoned portion of the eastern lot. That portion was historically mined as the Katuska Pit and contains dredge pilings.
That lot was purchased in 2013 and contains 19.5 acres. The other two lots were purchased in Aug. 2016.
One lot contains 20 acres with split zoning of mining and residential and the other contains two acres zoned residential.
The company is operating with a 1991 mining 110 reclamation permit from Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety. A 110 reclamation permit is for mines that will not disturb more than 10 acres.
According to the DRMS website, silver is the commodity being mined and the mine name is the Fairplay Au Pit. On other documents, it is called the Katuska Pit.
"Au" is the elemental symbol for silver.
High Speed was cited December 2016 by DRMS for mining 2.4 acres outside its eight-acre permit area. The 2.4 acres had never been mined before, was treed and did not contain dredge tailings.
High Speed was fined $35,567. But that was reduced to $5,567 because a new 112 reclamation permit to expand operations was filed within 60 days.
A 112 permit is required for any mining that will disturb over 10 acres.
The new permit application lists gold recovery as the primary resource and gravel aggregate was a secondary resource.
The DRMS hearing on the new permit is scheduled for 10 a.m., Aug. 9 in the Fairplay Community Center at the fairgrounds.
That hearing may be postponed or continued since the commissioners have not made a decision on the rezoning.
The company was cited again by DRMS in May for not complying with Park County zoning regulations and given 60 days to comply.
Park County notified the state April 19 about the zoning violation.
High Speed’s rezoning application was filed with the county on April 30.
Park County Development Services issued a cease and desist order June 8 for mining in the residential portion of the lot.
The county commissioners suspended the cease and desist order June 22.
The mining plan
At the county commissioners’ hearing, Ben Langenfeld, a mining engineer with Greg Lewicki and Associates, said the mine is a high value placer gold deposit where gold was concentrated during the Ice Age as glaciers moved south and deposited as the melting glacier as it retreated.
"We’re here for the gold, first and foremost," Langenfeld said.
He said that could take about 10 years to mine out the gold. If a need existed for aggregate, the time frame would be longer.
But the time table in the 112 reclamation permit application states it will take 17 years to mine and anticipates 150,000-300,000 tons of material will be excavated and processed each year.
Langenfeld said most of the aggregate mined will be stored and used for reclamation of the site.
The 112 permit application states no more than 50,000 tons will be stored at one time.
He also said that the county and the adjacent property owners could have as much aggregate as they wanted without paying for it.
According to the 112 permit application, mining will be completed in four phases with reclamation of one phase taking place at the same time as mining the next phase.
In order to reclaim the dredge tailings, some of the aggregate will be crushed into fines to create topsoil.
If the rezoning is approved, the existing forested hills will be mined and reclaimed as a depression with a slope ratio of one foot vertical to three feet horizontal and seeded with grass and scrubs, but no trees will be planted.
Langenfeld said water is obtained from the Platte City Ditch, which is an old mining water ditch, for the wash plant and the sediment pond. No water will leave the property or get into groundwater or the river.
The 112 permit application states 2.5 acre feet will be needed for gold processing and another 2.5 acre feet to control dust in the pit and on the roads.
Plans are to mine between 100 feet and 120 feet down with about 14 acres disturbed at any one time.
The company does not expect to hit groundwater. The application states groundwater is between 100 and 190 feet below the surface.
He said the rezoning should be approved because the first zoning map did not take into account the historical mining in the area.
Langenfeld said the rezoning is compatible with residential because the company would maintain a 100 feet buffer from Platte Drive, the access road, and a 50 feet buffer from other property lines. Berms around the mining area would also be maintained to reduce noise levels.
Also most of the work would be completed in the summer, due to the need for water in the sluice to separate the gold. No chemicals will be used in the extraction process, he said.
The company would agree to operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday and have sand in the trucks prior to loading to reduce noise levels.
Langenfeld said four out of five adjacent residential property owners are in favor of the rezoning and that 200 form letters supporting the rezoning were collected from residents and 80 businesses throughout the county.
He also showed examples of modern day reclamation, but none were by High Speed or "Gold Rush." He said they had won awards for their reclamation in Alaska.
County Attorney Lee Phillips asked High Speed’s owner Lance Baller if High Speed would agree to a condition that it would operate only when the mining water ditch had water.
He said he’d hate to do that because the operation may need to buy water in the future for some reason.
Baller said he would prefer a timing limit such as mining operations would occur from April through October.
Baller said the complaints had never been about water, just noise and dust.
Baller said he believed some of the complaints were caused by impacts from other mining operations in the area, not by his company.
"This is probably the best placer deposit in Colorado," Freddy Dodge from the "Gold Rush" reality show said.
He said mining is bringing people to Fairplay because of the show. They want to meet the crew and spend money in town.
Dodge said mining tourism is a real thing and it could be a gold mine for Park County if the commissioners approve the rezoning.
He said the land should have never been zoned residential because hand workings were everywhere on the residential zoned area on the property. He said they dated from the 1800s to the 1930s.
Dodge did not say if any of those hand workings had lead to actual mining.
One of the commissioners asked why the gold deposits had not been discovered before now.
Dodge said because it was covered with large boulders that only modern technology and equipment was able to get to.
He said that so far reworking the dredge tailings averaged about $12 per ton in gold. He expected the areas that hadn’t been mined would probably bring $15 dollars of gold per ton of material.
Thirteen people testified in support of the rezoning and 15 testified against.
Bob Harrison said they knew Shorty, who had mined the property years ago. He was sure Shorty didn’t know the property had a split zone, instead of all mining.
Todd Sullivan who owns the adjacent property to the west and to the north said his property was split as well and his house was on the mining zoned portion.
Sullivan said the residential zoning was improper for both his and High Speed’s property.
According to the assessor’s office website, that house is a small cabin and Sullivan’s address is in Arizona.
Mike Pfister said his property is being mined by Gold Rush now and his wife works there.
Several others stated they work for mining companies in the area and are now making good money.
Three mining engineers testified in support. One said no public hearings were held in 1975 when the first zoning map was approved.
Another said gold is a super conductor and used in many technology items, such as smart phones, cameras in vehicles and modern television sets.
Dean Misantoni said there is a huge interest and potential for mining in the county. He has worked in mining in Park County since 1984.
"There are commodities here, such as beryllium (in southeast Park County), that could be very valuable in the future," Misantoni said.
He said no one cared about Shorty or Sanborn mining because they were small. Now the operations are on a bigger scale.
Others testified about the economic value of mining to the county and local businesses.
Several said if this rezoning was approved, they and others with split zoning would also be in to get the entire lot rezoned to mining.
Ann Lukacs, Beaver Ridge resident, she had moved here from Summit County to get away from the noise.
When she bought in 2007, the only mine was Sanborn’s small operation northwest of the proposed rezoning.
Beaver Ridge is on the east side of Colorado Highway 9 and mining activity is on the west side.
She could hear noise for about one month out of the year, but it was nothing compared to the noise she hears today.
"This is for the TV show," she said. "They (Gold Rush) said they can’t come back unless the rezoning is approved."
She said berms do not help block mining noise if your property is higher than the mine in the valley.
Lukacs said High Speed had filed a $77,166 bond to mine the JRS mine a day after the planning commission recommended denying the High Speed rezoning.
The JRS mine property is now owned by John Sullivan who testified in favor of the rezone, but did not disclose High Speed is mining property he owns.
With it now in operation as well as the old Sanborn mine (now PlayFair Land Co.) and High Speed’s current mining, "It’s like having surround-a-sound of mining activity," Lukacs said.
"Companies have to mine where the minerals are," Commissioner Dick Elsner told Lukacs.
Another lady from Beaver Ridge said she bought in the 1960s when there was no mining activity in the area. The real estate person told her a lake was planned for where all the abandoned mines were located.
Bob White who owns commercial and residential property in the area said that Fairplay hasn’t been a mining town since the 1960s when the dredges left. Now it is a tourist town and nearby subdivisions are filled with second homes.
He said people say don’t buy near a mine, but if the commissioners start rezoning residential land to mining, then a good buying decision becomes a bad one because of the county’s actions.
He spoke of Trevor Messa who wrote a letter opposing the rezoning.
Messa is now five lots from land zoned mining. If this is approved, he becomes four lots away. The next rezoned lot puts him three lots away.
White said about five people own about 182 acres of mining zoned land in the area and 108 residents own 1,381 acres that are three to five lots from the mining zone.
He said he had asked Brannon Sand and Gravel which is mining dredge piles further down the river why it spends the money to take gravel to Denver. He was told because counties closer to Denver have strict regulations on surface mining. Park County doesn’t.
White also asked if the county had completed an economic study showing that expanding strip mining would be good for the county.
"I’d hate to see us become the gravel capital of Colorado," White said.
Several others in opposition spoke to water quality issues and the need to report water quality of mining areas, lack of trust because the statements by High Speed and Gold Rush keep changing, the applicants should show pictures of their award winning reclamation instead of reclamation by other companies.
Others said the $153,000 bond was not near enough to reclaim if High Speed left before after mining without reclaiming. Increased truck traffic and safety issues were mentioned.
Others said when High Speed first started residents knew they would be in and out in five years.
"With 30 more acres to mine, we won’t see the end by the end of our lives," one opponent said.
Several said they lived nearby, but were never approached to sign the form letter in favor because Dodge was very selective and told half truths to get people to sign.
Many spoke of the impacts to their properties, personal lives and wildlife leaving the area since the mines opened next to Fairplay.
Jamie Morrow said she is now sandwiched between mining properties.
"If you go back far enough, dinosaurs lived here, but do you want to bring them back?" she asked.
Morrow said tourists are coming to the area for the views and wildlife, not to watch a mine.
Sylvia Cramner said she is an adjacent property owner and increasing the mine by almost 30 acres is a huge impact to the area.
She said Breckenridge and Aspen were old mining towns, but they aren’t mining now and their economies are doing great as tourist towns.
She urged the commissioners to listen to the planning commission’s deliberations and why the recommendation was four to one to recommend denial of the rezoning.
"What do you want for the future, choose one or the other – to remain the trout capital of the world or mining," Cramner said.
She said most of the people who spoke in support of the rezoning had some personal interest in the industry, such as engineers, workers, owners of mining property and other miners.