Town thinking watershed permit
Friday, December 13 is the new deadline set by the state to accept comments on the proposed VCUP (Voluntary Cleanup Program) application filed by U.S. Energy in conjunction with the old Keystone Mine site.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment had approved the VCUP application filed by the mining company in October. But after a huge public outcry by local stakeholders, the state “suspended” that approval to take more input.
“The High Country Citizens’ Alliance had submitted a letter to the department requesting an extended deadline for submitting additional information regarding the U.S. Energy (VCUP) application for the historic Keystone Mine,” stated CDPHE public information specialist Katherine Lemon. “Since December 15 falls on a Sunday, CDPHE requests that the community submit any readily available information pertaining to the application no later than the close of business on December 13.
“It is a priority for CDPHE to resolve any potential issues with U.S. Energy’s application as quickly as possible,” continued Lemon. “A December 13 deadline will give CDPHE the opportunity to complete a thorough review of information submitted by the community prior to the Christmas holiday.”
In its VCUP application, U.S. Energy had proposed capping the current mine adits, reinforcing the existing tailings ponds and utilizing passive water treatment systems in an effort to treat contaminated water flowing from Mt. Emmons into Coal Creek. They would then demolish the current wastewater treatment plant that U.S. Energy operates at a cost of more than a million dollars annually. U.S. Energy holds the right to mine the molybdenum beneath Mt. Emmons.
The primary local stakeholders dealing with the state include the town, HCCA and the Red Lady Coalition. The Coal Creek Watershed Coalition and the County are being kept apprised of the situation as well.
“We’re fine with the December 13 date and are very appreciative that the CDPHE has given us the time we requested to organize our comments,” said HCCA executive director Greg Dyson. “The local stakeholders are coordinating on comments but we will likely submit our own letter since we all have different angles that we are looking at.”
“The town is in the process of compiling information for potential comments,” said Crested Butte town manager Todd Crossett. “We haven’t decided if they will come from the town or as part of a larger comment from all the area stakeholders.
“We need to make sure that the town preserves its standing for the future,” said Crossett. “Looking to the future, if any sort of cleanup is conducted up there, it will need to go through the town’s watershed permitting process.”
HCCA’s focus will be on whether the Keystone Mine is even eligible for a VCUP. “We are looking at the application submitted by U.S. Energy to make sure it is complete,” Dyson said. “Our focus is the protection of public health and the environment. That is what the CDPHE needs to consider when reviewing an application.”
Red Lady Coalition president Bill Ronai said his group is also good with the December 13 submission date. “We are working together on comments, but will likely submit separate letters as well,” he said. “VCUP is a fairly narrow regulation. Our comments will focus on public health and safety, as well as procedural shortcomings and issues, but may also include references to public well being such as the economy.”
CDPHE officials want to review the newly submitted comments the week of December 16 and then give U.S. Energy a chance to rebut the new comments if they feel that is necessary.
U.S. Energy President Mark Larsen did not respond to several emails requesting comment on the matter.
Crossett and Dyson said there has been some discussion about having representatives of the CDPHE come to Crested Butte and take public comments in person. No definitive time or decision on such a meeting has been set.
Meanwhile, HCCA is waiting on a response from U.S. Energy to a letter it sent November 21 asking them to “table” the VCUP application and join in a collaboration with HCCA, “governmental bodies, agencies, experts and other key interested parties, whereby we develop a reclamation plan for the Keystone Mine that meets U.S. Energy’s and the community’s needs.
“It is our opinion that your current plan does not meet the community’s needs for assurances of clean water,” the HCCA letter continues. “And we are, quite frankly, surprised at the narrowness of your plan, in that if it fails it would potentially open U.S. Energy up to significant liabilities that could easily exceed any costs you are currently facing.”
Dyson said he has not been notified of an official response from Larsen or U.S. Energy as of December 3.
Larsen did not respond to an email request for a comment on the letter.
“If U.S. Energy agrees to a public discussion about a cleanup plan, the first thing we’ll have to do is to work with them to develop a process that everyone agrees with,” explained Dyson. “For our part, we will look to the existing cleanup plan procedures established for VCUP and CERCLA (better known as the Superfund Act), along with input from experts, to guide what that process should look like. But we are still waiting to hear if U.S. Energy wants to work in this sort of collaborative process.”