July 31, 2020
Director Jamie Connell
Colorado Bureau of Land Management
2850 Youngfield Street
Lakewood, Colorado 80215
Dear Director Connell:
I was recently informed of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) decision to approve a proposal Canada-based Zephyr Minerals, Ltd., to expand mineral exploration activities in Fremont County, Colorado. The public lands where the exploratory activities are scheduled to take place fall under two protective federal designations, the Grape Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), identified in the BLM’s 1996 Royal Gorge Field Office Resource Management Plan (RMP), and the Lower Grape Creek Wilderness Study Area (WSA). In such instances of “layered” land designation, the special management provisions that apply to a congressionally-approved WSA take precedence over those applied to an ACEC.
I understand that the proponent worked closely with the county, the BLM and the Colorado Division of Reclamation, and Mining Safety (DRMS) to develop a plan intended to reduce the potential for surface disturbances and to accommodate seasonal wildlife operational restrictions. Nevertheless, preserving the integrity of federally-protected lands in our state is a subject of profound interest to Coloradans. I am concerned that the agency declined in this case to use its discretionary authority to require a comprehensive plan of operations subject to environmental analysis (EA), which would have offered the public an opportunity to review and provide input on the proposed activities.
The BLM’s decision to allow industrial solid mineral exploration activities within a WSA is unprecedented in Colorado, if not nationally, and very worrisome. Section 603 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) directs the Secretary of the Department of Interior (DOI) to prevent “unnecessary or undue degradation” to WSAs that could jeopardize their suitability to be preserved as wilderness. While it’s highly unlikely that any plans to recover a solid mineral claim in the future would satisfy the ‘non-impairment’ criteria set forth in section 1.6.C of the BLM’s WSA Policy Manual, there is still a risk that the proposed exploration could pave the way for development down the road. This possibility only heightens the importance of opening up plans for industrial exploration within WSAs to public scrutiny.
In accordance with its statutory authority, the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board (MLRB) recently approved the proponent’s state mineral exploration permit on the basis of the application’s compliance with Colorado standards and regulations. It is the BLM’s purview, however, to determine whether such proposals for industrial activities on federal lands satisfy both the requirements and intent of federal laws and guidelines, including those associated with special designations. Should the BLM have the opportunity to reconsider its decision, or should a proposal for industrial mineral exploration within a federally-designated WSA arise again in the future, I would urge your agency to apply an abundance of caution by opting to undertake a thorough, publicly reviewed, environmental analysis.
I appreciate your consideration in this matter.
Jared Polis Governor
ROYAL GORGE PRESERVATION PROJECT
P.O. BOX 173
CANON CITY, COLORADO 81215
February 25, 2019
Royal Gorge Association of Realtors
611 Greenwood Avenue
Canon City, Colorado 81212
Attn: Pam Gaunt, Association Executive
Dear Ms. Gaunt;
It is respectfully requested that you bring the following information to the attention of the Association of Realtors at the upcoming meeting for their consideration and support.
The Royal Gorge Preservation Project is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization created to protect and educate the public regarding the value of tourism in the Royal Gorge area as a viable public goal and to preserve the natural beauty of the Royal Gorge region from environmentally destructive human activity.
Our Board has adopted this statement of mission in support of the various boards and entities within the Royal Gorge region that are committed to sustaining and enhancing the economic viability and natural beauty of our community. Conversely, we are committed to oppose those forces that would disrupt, denigrate or cause lasting harm to the progress currently being made.
In this regard, the Royal Gorge Preservation Project has taken the position that Zephyr Minerals, Ltd. falls clearly within the category of “environmentally destructive human activity.” Zephyr Minerals executives and some members of our community have extolled the economic virtues of their proposed mining operation. Stock sales have been the motivation for some, all while a substantive percentage of our population remains apathetic or unaware of the destructive effects that an active gold mine would bring to us.
There are numerous reasons why people who live in a rural residential area would not want a hard rock (gold) mining operation nearby. In our case the mining operation would be located adjacent to our city limits to the southwest (Dawson Ranch) and directly visible from Canon City. Potential problems include declining property values. No one wants to live near an operational gold mine (or one that is dormant or abandoned, for that matter). No one wants to deal with heavy truck traffic on a daily basis, 24/7 industrial lighting, the smoke and noise inherent in ore processing, greatly heightened danger from fire, and the catastrophic potential of a one million-ton tailings pond located approximately 600 feet above the Arkansas River, just to name a few of the disadvantages. As the desirability of an area decreases, so too do property values.
Other factors that would work to depreciate property values include vehicular traffic. At a Zephyr open meeting in Canon City on May 17, 2017, a Zephyr spokesperson stated that one truck would haul ore every seven or eight days. In 2019, in a written statement to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) requesting access to mining property across BLM land, Will Felderhof, Executive Chairman of Zephyr Minerals, Ltd., stated the potential for twenty haul trucks per day accessing mining property in addition to a myriad of other vehicular traffic. Additional factors include the permanent visual impact a mine would have; air pollution caused by wind, blasting, drilling and rock crushing; groundwater contamination; surface water contamination; noise (crushing, blasting, etc. that would be heard well within city limits); dangerous precedents (once mining begins, further degradation follows); and the continuing expansion of mining activity once the permitting process is established.
An Association of Realtors decision not to favor the continuing development of a community gold mine would positively impact the economics and aesthetics of our community. Our current emphasis on tourism and recreation in general represents the future growth of Fremont County. A mine, regardless of its ownership, represents singular corporate greed with little or nothing to offer our community except a legacy of ugliness and environmental destruction that will live with us in perpetuity.
Your willingness to decide in the interest of community progress in lieu of the consequences of stepping backward in time will be appreciated.
Royal Gorge Preservation Project
ROYAL GORGE PRESERVATION PROJECT
400 STORM RIDGE DRIVE
CANON CITY, COLORADO 81212
January 20, 2019
Mr. Steve Kaverman, Chairman
Fremont County Tourism Council
605 Macon Avenue
Canon City, Colorado 81212
Dear Mr. Kaverman;
A grouping of local citizens recently formed the Royal Gorge Preservation Project as 501 c (3) non-profit corporation, the purpose of which is to protect and to educate the public regarding the value of tourism in the Royal Gorge area as a viable public goal and to preserve the natural beauty of the Royal Gorge region from environmentally destructive human activity.
Our current and paramount concern is the impending encroachment of Zephyr Minerals Ltd. into the Wet Mountain foothills to the immediate south and west of our community. We believe that their efforts to develop a gold mine would not only be environmentally destructive but would directly contradict our community’s efforts to promote tourism as an economic engine for future growth.
I or other members of our corporation would appreciate the opportunity to meet with your council to advise regarding the direction we are setting for our group and to align ourselves with yours in the interest of our common purpose. Of course, your stated opposition to becoming a gold mining community would fit our mutual interests quite well.
I look forward to your response in this matter.
Board Chair, Royal Gorge Preservation Project
Cc: RGPP Board
Hidden issues beneath Dawson Ranch gold mine project
Recently, there has been a debate about a proposed gold mine to be located south of town. Most of the concerns have revolved around appearance or damage to the visual landscape and noise and air pollution. While worrying about potential unsightliness, citizens should also worry about what is out of sight.
Many people south of the river still use wells to water crops and some even for household use. The aquifers that recharge these wells are south of town, in the areas of the planned underground mining operations. Any drilling, blasting, boring, etc., in this area could damage these aquifers. Other proposed procedures, such as injecting tailings and concrete back underground, could similarly alter or damage the local aquifers. Even if one does not depend on well water, there are concerns. Rain leached water with contaminants may gravel layers of the local water table and moving north and east, potentially affect many neighborhoods.
The corporation proposing the gold mining lease swears no heavy metals or toxins will be used, but even if they are not, more common chemicals, such as diesel fuels, etc., can easily leach into the groundwater. People don't think about how closely linked environmentally distant things are. For example, two to four weeks after the irrigation canals are turned on in the spring, water runs through my cellar, though I am blocks away from the canal. Always, every season, no exception and has done so for decades.
On the other hand, when Dawson's ranch subdivision first went in, the water table in the yard and cellar dropped by over a foot and has maintained that level or lower since. Rainwater, groundwater, and leached chemicals south of town head for the river, regardless of what we may plan, but it is also a delicate balance. I don't want gas and oil in my cellar, and I am sure well users don't want their wells to dry up or be contaminated in any way.
Zephyr Minerals talks about many fine things, like "corporate citizens" that ultimately have little significance, throws out exciting numbers like "20 million dollars" without any actual itemized data, and freely admits they kept quiet and did not try to talk to the public until they were actually called out on this project. While looking at the obvious and well-understood concerns with this gold mine, people need to consider the hidden issues beneath it and irreparable collateral damage that might occur as it goes forward.