An aspiring silver and gold mine in La Plata Canyon cleared one more hurdle Wednesday, receiving approval of its permit from the state after regulators said the company addressed concerns raised from public opposition.
“This project has gone on for a while,” Chris Neumann, an attorney for the mine operators, told Colorado’s Mined Land Reclamation Board. “We just want to thank the board for its patience over the years.”
The almost decade-old issue dates back to 2008 when then-owner James Clements began illegally mining the Mayday-Idaho mining complex, a historic mine off County Road 124, west of Durango.
The rogue work, which included cutting a road through the La Plata River, blasting two mine portals and building a mill inside the mine workings, drew fierce backlash from neighbors and state regulators.
In 2013, Wildcat Mining brought in new leadership, hoping to reverse its long history of running afoul with state regulations. The company in December 2016 crossed a major threshold when the state reinstated its permit.
In February, a new company, called Sunrise Mining, took over operations of the project. That company is led by Sara Glinatsis and her father Jack Nielson, a farmer in North Platte, Nebraska, that has been involved in the mining operation since 2014.
Wildcat Mining, and its president George Robinson, is no longer involved in the operation, Glinatsis told The Durango Herald after the meeting. Robinson, however, will continue to serve as a consultant when needed.
Sunrise Mining for the past year has been completing remaining requirements with the state, such as an updated mining and reclamation plan, and an environmental protection assessment. The company also posted a $204,562 bond that the state said would cover the cost of reclamation.
Part of that process was addressing and trying to resolve concerns brought up in a public comment period, which elicited four responses from neighbors in the area that expressed concern over impacts to water, traffic and noise.
On Wednesday, staff with the Department of Reclamation, Mining and Safety told the Mined Land Reclamation Board that Sunrise Mining had addressed and resolved these concerns, and recommended approval of its permit.
The Mined Land Reclamation Board approved the permit unanimously.
Glinatsis said the next step for Sunrise Mining before it can start mining in La Plata Canyon is to acquire a land-use permit from La Plata County. She said the company will begin those efforts in earnest in the next couple of months.
Calls to La Plata County government were not returned Wednesday.
If and when Sunrise Mining acquires a county land-use permit, it then can implement the plan approved by the state mining board, such as replacing a bridge that crosses the La Plata River and conducting some cleanup work.
Glinatsis said Sunrise Mining would start off as a relatively small operation, cleaning some historic mine waste piles and exploring the mine workings for its potential.
“We can then determine whether we want to move forward,” she said.
Scott Collignon, a vocal opponent of the mine who has lived in La Plata Canyon for 45 years, still takes issue with the opening of the historic mine. After years of mismanagement by Wildcat Mining, he doesn’t fully believe everything in the mining complex has been set right.
“It’s a 10 year joke and nothings changed,” Collignon said. “I’m pretty sour with the whole thing. I have no respect for (the mining company) or the board or anyone handling this ongoing catastrophe and it’s hard for me to believe this is all of a sudden all fine.”
Glinatsis said the company “will do what we can to be a good neighbor and part of that community.”
Though, as the operation enters La Plata County’s land-use permit process, which includes receiving public feedback, it’s not clear if the mine is going to get the nod of good faith from neighbors who have long opposed the project.
“It’s been a chain of events that hasn’t changed; it’s the same garbage,” Collignon said. “It’s a beautiful canyon and there’s nobody protecting it.”