Commish sees value in state oversight

Letter requests rejection of county mining control

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At a glance

• The Colorado House of Representatives Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee currently is debating a bill allowing individual counties to prohibit certain kinds of mining within their jurisdictions.

• The bill does not affect coal mining, but the Moffat County Commission worries it might create a confrontational atmosphere with mining companies.

• The Summit County Commission worries gold mining practices there could damage the land and harm residents, and it favors the legislation.

• The Moffat County Commission thinks current regulatory practices, which include local input, are sufficient to protect lands and residents.

— Although the Moffat County Commission almost always will favor local control, this particular case is an exception, Commissioner Tom Gray said.

At its Tuesday meeting, the Commission signed a letter of protest regarding Colorado House Bill 1165, bipartisan legislation that would allow counties to prohibit certain mining practices within their jurisdictions that currently are used within the state.

The letter was sent to the Colorado House of Representatives' Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, which will decide whether to pass the bill to the House floor for a vote.

The bill wouldn't affect Moffat County much because it has nothing to do with coal mining, but the commissioners and Jeff Comstock, Moffat County Natural Resources Department director, said they were most worried that the legislation would send the state down the path of more resistance toward mining.

"I think the fear we have with this is it's just the camel's nose under the tent," Comstock said.

Other county governments and interested parties asked the Commission to weigh in on the issue before it decided to voice an opinion, Comstock said.

HB 1165 affects hard rock mining, such as uranium, gold and copper. The Summit County Commission, which has its own ban on cyanide heap-leach mining for gold working its way through the state courts, supports the legislation.

The Summit County Commission passed a ban on cyanide heap-leach mining practices - where a diluted cyanide solution is poured over mined ore to extract gold - in 2004. Mining representatives challenged the act in court, and the Colorado Supreme Court plans to hear the case later this year.

The Summit County Commission's support of the new state bill and of its pending court case are separate, but both actions reach for the same point, Summit County Commissioner Bob French said.

"We think it's a good idea for local government to have authority over these dangerous mining practices that could potentially damage their areas," French said. "We don't want cyanide running around Summit County."

Current mining regulations in the state, which include cooperative processes between state and county agencies, are sufficient to ensure safety to lands and residents, the Moffat Commission's letter states.

"Moffat County understands that mining operations, like all private businesses, need a guaranteed level of security that their operation won't be immediately suspended due to shifting political values," the letter reads.

Regulations across Colorado should be consistent, Gray said. Otherwise, mining companies could look at the state as one with too many hoops to jump through for a mine to be profitable.

"The permit process needs to stay with the state," Gray said.

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