You just can’t go ahead and start mining operations without state permits like the pioneers did in the old days, at least that’s the message Colorado regulators sent to a Silverton miner on Wednesday.
The Colorado Division of Mining, Reclamation and Safety sternly reprimanded Silverton resident Keith McFarland at its monthly commission meeting for allegedly beginning mining development without a permit.
“A reasonable person would have called up the division ... to have a discussion on what’s being done,” a division staff person told the commission in Denver. “And that did not happen.”
According to the division, an inspection of the “Hobo Mine” this past September found a significant amount of new development. Some of that work included opening the collapsed entrance of the mine and major improvements to the access road.
The Hobo Mine is located in San Juan County, about 10 miles northeast of Silverton along County Road 2, which follows the upper Animas River. The mine portal is located up a steep cliff above the road at an elevation of about 10,770 feet.
Environmental protection specialist Lucas West presented a photo of the mine site taken in September 2015, which showed the entrance of the mine was inaccessible because of collapsed debris. The photo also showed the road, which provided historic access to the mine, was overgrown with vegetation.
The division received notice Sept. 8 of this year that there may be unpermitted mining operations happening at the Hobo Mine. The subsequent investigation 10 days later confirmed those suspicions.
“Staff believes this represents a significant investment of time, energy and money,” West said.
Much of the conversation Wednesday revolved around McFarland’s intent of the work and whether he planned to extract minerals. McFarland owns the Silverton-based K & C Traders, which sells locally mined jewelry.
According to the company’s website, McFarland and his wife, Connie, have lived in San Juan County since 1999, specializing in the sale of “astorite,” a gemstone sourced locally.
McFarland, for his part, admitted to the recent activity at the mine site but said the work was done with the intention of closing the mine portal for good because of safety concerns. Mostly, people sneaking in.
There was some confusion about a previous state order to close the portals of other mine sites McFarland oversees. McFarland said he thought the state order pertained to the Hobo Mine, although it turned out it didn’t.
“We thought we were doing what we were asked to do by the state,” he said. “If I did something wrong, I apologize.”
The mining division’s staff didn’t completely buy McFarland’s claim that the work was done to ultimately close the mine because some of the work indicated the intent of long-term operations.
“The pictures we have, the evidence we have, doesn’t support just a safety closure,” a division staff member said.
Division staff also said the recent work only made the mine more accessible to curious visitors.
“Your average tourist would not have been able to access that mine,” West said of the state of the Hobo Mine before the work.
McFarland’s work also created new environmental concerns for the state, including the possibility the mine may discharge water with poor quality during spring runoff, and the newly cut road may have destabilized the hillside.
McFarland told the board he purchased the mine in 2004 but never had intentions of actually mining it. When asked why he didn’t contact the division before starting work, he said, “Maybe that’s what I should have done.”
Ultimately, the board veered from figuring out McFarland’s intent. Instead, they focused on the fact that the recent work at the site did fall in line with the definition of “development” according to the division rules.
“Only he knows what’s true,” said board member Karin Utterback-Normam.
McFarland agreed to any conditions the state wishes to apply.
The division board found McFarland in violation for failure to obtain a reclamation permit before engaging in a mining operation, and issued a “cease and desist” order on all activities at the site except those approved by the state.
McFarland must post a $10,000 financial security bond within 60 days and submit a complete reclamation permit within 90 days. He must also pay a $5,000 civil penalty for the violation. However, if he complies with all the terms of the order, he’ll receive $4,900 back.
The motion passed 5-1.