Mayday mine

State board is right to set a deadline for fixing the road to the troubled mine

Since 2008, when neighbors and regulators took umbrage at efforts to restart a mining operation in La Plata County that ran afoul of virtually all governing ethics that dictate how such activity should take place, ranging from legal procedure to environmental concern to neighborly behavior, the Mayday mine has been a sore subject. After a years-long game of seeking forgiveness instead of permission, the mine has changed hands and the state’s mining board has set a firm deadline for fixing one of the main problems at the site. That is a welcome and long-awaited step.

The Mayday mine’s previous owner built an access road, dug a now-collapsed mine shaft and built a mill outside the mine, all without a permit. While each of these activities was a rather egregious breach of protocol, the road was of particular concern to neighbors as well as the state’s Mined Land Reclamation Board, which said the road presents imminent danger to human safety and the environment. The owner responsible for the road and other illegal projects at the mine has since sold the facility to a Florida-based company interested in cleaning up its predecessor’s messes, and the state board has given a clear order in beginning that process by requiring the road be fixed by Sept. 30. That provides needed clarity in righting the wrongs that Wildcat Mining’s former owner James “Mike” Clements unfurled in La Plata Canyon when he set about to begin mining without the prerequisite permits after purchasing the mine in 2006. It also gives Wildcat’s new owner, Varca Ventures, much-needed direction in transitioning the operation from one that is non-compliant and unsafe into a viable venture. The shift will be neither easy nor fast, but beginning with the most glaring safety and environmental problem allows Varca to set a more positive and compliant tone as the mine’s operator.

It will be the first of many necessary steps in healing the wounds Clements cut at the mine’s site and in the La Plata Canyon community. As the new owner of that legacy, Varca faces a compliance challenge as well as an image and public sentiment problem associated with Wildcat Mining. Fixing the road that is causing a serious sediment problem in the La Plata River, as well as posing a safety risk for those attempting to use the road, will do much to soften that image, but it is just the beginning. The collapsed mineshaft is another serious problem that must be adequately addressed before beginning new mine-related activity. And before all that, Vanca would be well-advised to reach out to the mine’s neighbors and hear their concerns about past and future activity at the site.

For now, though, a firm deadline on fixing the road and Vanca’s eagerness to adhere to it are good signs that, at the very least, problems from the past will be addressed.