Jan. 24—About a year after the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board imposed a cease-and-desist order at the Cross and Caribou mines outside Nederland, the board last week agreed to lift the order — but the operation's work to get up and running again has only just begun.
The state board met Jan. 18 to discuss lifting the cease-and-desist order at the request of Grand Island Resources LLC, which operates the mines. The board first considered a state water quality violation in December 2021 and January 2022, and imposed the order in February, said Jared Ebert, a senior environmental protection specialist with the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety. The mining operation violated the Colorado Water Quality Control Act and a discharge permit by releasing heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and zinc into the watershed at levels that exceed what's permitted by law. According to the notice of violation, that wastewater is directed to a series of lined ponds. The water from both mines combines in the second pond and is discharged via pipeline to Coon Track Creek, which feeds into Barker Reservoir and Boulder Creek. Following the order, DRMS reviewed data and was unable to determine that any of the water resources had impaired water quality.
The decision to end the cease-and-desist order comes after Grand Island Resources LLC this month withdrew an appeal it issued after the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety determined Grand Island met the definition of a designated mining operation, which requires that a company comply with various rules before it can resume activity.
Officials with Grand Island Resources LLC did not respond to requests for comment about the appeal or decision to withdraw, but a letter to the state board said, "based on the aforementioned discussions between the division and GIR and the understandings resulting therefrom, as well as GIR's assessment of its future mining plans, GIR has determined that it is in the best interest of the parties for GIR to immediately withdraw its appeal and accept the DMO designation, including the relevant requirements under the Mined Land Reclamation Act."
Ebert said when staff considered the request to remove the cease-and-desist order, they evaluated the operation's compliance with the order, the results of the hydrologic monitoring requirements, the designated mining operation determination and required permitting — all of which have been met. Although, not all regular testing from 2022 was up to snuff with state law.
Ebert said three of the four quarterly progress reports the operation is required to submit said the operation was in compliance with state law when it actually wasn't. Ebert added the operation's March 2022 sampling report showed that lead levels exceeded what's permitted by law, but no further deviations have been reported since.
Staff ultimately supported the board's unanimous decision to lift the cease-and-desist order now that the operation is in compliance with the requirements and has accepted the determination that requires it to become a designated mining operation. The operation now has 180 days, or until July 17, to apply for this designation and cannot resume work until it meets all state requirements.
The designation also triggers a 2019 state law that requires mines to demonstrate they are not reliant on perpetual water treatment plans in effort to prevent community risk from any long-term water quality problems, said Jeff Parsons, an attorney with Western Mining Action Project, who is also representing Save The Colorado.
"That's to make sure that the downstream users of the water don't have to live in continual fear that their water is going to be polluted because of a failure of a water treatment plant," he said. "This company will have to demonstrate how they are going to clean up their site so that the water quality is protected for the long term without requiring active treatment."
Board member Nell Wareham-Morris said she believes lifting the cease-and-desist order is important in order to give the operation the ability to begin capital projects such as relocating the water treatment plant and rebuilding a snow shed, which ultimately will help the operation come into compliance with revisions required under the designated mining operation status and the state law.
"I still think this is a move in the right direction, and I hope the compliance with the cease-and-desist order has really helped to make some formal connectivity with the division and get into a better cadence on reporting and updating their data and their business activities," she said.