A couple of months after being issued a state water quality violation, the Cross and Caribou mines outside Nederland have installed a new water treatment filtration system that is fully operational.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment’s Water Quality Control Division, who issued the violation Nov. 5, continues to inspect and monitor the reports submitted by the mining operation to ensure the efficacy of the new system.
“Our state partners are reviewing the results of those tests to assess whether the system is working,” Jesse Rounds, a planner in Boulder County’s Planning and Permitting department, said at a public meeting Tuesday.
On initial inspection earlier this month, the numbers were trending positive and “moving toward undetectable,” according to Ed Byrne, who serves as legal counsel for Grand Island Resources LLC, the entity who operates the mines.
The notice of violation and cease and desist order alleges the Boulder County 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 exceeding what’s permitted by law.
The Nederland Board of Trustees on Tuesday evening hosted an informational session with county staff to discuss the situation and answer questions, given the amount of concern expressed by community members.
The operation discharges treated wastewater associated with the mines, which at one point produced gold, silver, copper, zinc and lead. 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.
For this reason, the city of Boulder is monitoring the watershed frequently “because it drains directly into their drinking water,” according to Erin Dodge, a water quality program coordinator with Boulder County Public Health.
In addition to being required to install a new water treatment facility, the mines are required to submit regular progress reports. The operation also was issued a $5,000 fine with the caveat that if the system fails or there is continued non-compliance the amount could be increased to $17,000.
Grand Island Resources applied for revisions to its special use permit that allows mining to happen around the same time the violations occurred.
“We’re trying to determine what their next steps are.” Rounds said.
At least part of the reason Grand Island was required to submit a permit revision is some of the pieces included in the 2008 special use approval were allowed on a timeline that has since passed, he noted.
“We have regulatory authority over land use in the county,” Rounds said. “Our role here is figuring out: Does the activity at the Caribou (and) Cross (mines) fit within the land use codes.”
Representatives from Grand Island Resources, LLC attended the meeting, but president Daniel Takami said he was not prepared to answer questions from the community.
He said Grand Island intended to host a community meeting in the spring when people could ask questions and learn more about the mining operation’s plans.
“As far as our water … we had 11 exceedances out of 400 data points,” Takami said. “All of our exceedances were within drinking water standards.”
Byrne echoed that point.
“We wanted to get rid of those exceedances,” he said. “We think this new system is going to do that for us.”
Still, a number of community members asked questions and expressed concerns at Tuesday’s meeting.
Garrett Rue, a Boulder resident and researcher, said articles about the water quality violation in the fall caught his attention. He argued the company could have been more forthright about its discharges and said the public has a right to know.
“In some ways, this kind of feels like we’re trying to put the genie back in the bottle here,” Rue said.
Scott Papich, a Nederland resident, emphasized he feels it’s important for the town to cooperate and work with the mine, given that everyone must coexist together in the small mountain community.
But he said the cooperation should go both ways.
“We have an expectation here in town that the mine and the organization that runs the mine also cooperates with the town,” Papich said.
In Tuesday’s meeting, one person asked whether the county or state could implement a proactive testing program to avoid such a situation from occurring again.
Dodge noted that would be a better suited request of the mine.
“Being at that point of control is really where things start, right?” she said. “If I was monitoring two miles downstream, that’s a little too late.”
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