Governor Polis Expresses Concern About Mineral Exploration in the Grape Creek Area
**As reported by the "The Mountain Mail" on Aug 11, 2020
Governor Jared Polis has challenged the BLM's decision to allow Zephyr Minerals to perform mineral exploration in the Grape Creek Wilderness Study Area. In a letter to the Colorado Bureau of Land Management’s Director, Jamie Connell, Gov. Polis stated,
“The BLM’s decision to allow industrial solid mineral exploration activities within a WSA is unprecedented in Colorado, if not nationally, and very worrisome,” Polis said in the letter. “Section 603 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act directs the Secretary of the Department of Interior 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.”
Zephyr Minerals' Dawson Gold Project--State Application for Grape Creek Mineral Exploration Approved
**INFORMATION COURTESY OF OUR FRIENDS AT WILD CONNECTIONS
Last month, Wild Connections and INFORM appealed the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining, and Safety (DRMS)'s decision to approve Zephyr's mineral application proposal to expand onto the Grape Creek proposed Wilderness and Wilderness Study Area (WSA). Unfortunately the appeal was denied by the Mining, Land, and Reclamation Board on July 22, 2020.
In the recent appeal process, Zephyr disclosed that they will be constructing helicopter landing pads, whichshould trigger the BLM to have them submit a Plan of Operations and do an Environmental Assessment.
Inform, Wild Connections, and Central Colorado Wilderness Coalition sent a joint letter to BLM Royal Gorge Field Office and to BLM Colorado, notifying them of Zephyr's updated plans, and the BLM actions that it should trigger.
Governor Polis and Congresswoman DeGette have also recently weighed in with concerning letters to BLM Colorado regarding their lack of action on this.
Zephyr has already began transporting materials via low helicopter flyovers, and they still plan to drill exploratory mining holes, construct helicopter landing pads, and lay pipes that will pump water out of Grape Creek to the exploration sites in BLM's Wilderness Study Area and Area of Critical Environmental Concern.
Wild Connections and partners have alerted the BLM that they believe this proposal is illegal as the company does not have a valid existing right because these claims are recent and therefore violate the non-impairment standard of BLM's Wilderness Study Area Manual.
The BLM does not plan to have an official public comment period for this proposal, so we suggest that if you have any concerning comments or questions, or want to let the BLM know that they should not open up the Grape Creek Wilderness Study Area to this mining exploration,
- direct them to BLM Royal Gorge Field Manager, Keith Berger, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- BLM won’t be keeping an official record of these comments, so please CC your comment to email@example.com who will be compiling comments.
For more information and actions to take, see: http://www.wildconnections.
Take EcoFlight's Grape Creek Virtual Tour, with intro by Congresswoman DeGette at:
Parkdale Quarry Proposed Expansion
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) 45-day public comment period for a proposed expansion of the Parkdale Quarry west of Cañon City onto 700 aces of BLM public lands ended on March 23rd.
The RGPP along with many other interested organizations submitted comments in opposition of this expansion. We will anxiously await the release of the final Environmental Impact Statement.
Zephyr Minerals Application to Nearly Triple Size Approved by Fremont County Commissioners
The Fremont County Commissioners unanimously approved this expansion on February 25th: https://www.canoncitydailyrecord.com/2020/02/25/fremont-county-commissioners-ok-zephyr-permit-modification/.
Additionally, Zephyr has submitted a Plan of Operations to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In a letter dated 12/23/19, the BLM outlined 19 items that were insufficient in that submission: https://dnrweblink.state.co.us/drms/0/edoc/1293653/2019-12-23_GENERAL%20DOCUMENTS%20-%20P2013002.pdf.
The Colorado State Land Board received nearly 200 pages of letters of opposition against exploration and mining in this area. They can be found on the State Land Board website starting on page 16 of this packet: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1VeD8X_zNbdsxAuu2Y31LTF4etbAUsABc/view.
HAMET Helicopter Training on Public Lands
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Royal Gorge Field Office recently sought public comment on a proposal from the U.S. Army Fort Carson to conduct High Altitude Mountain Environment Training (HAMET) on public lands in Fremont, Teller and Park counties. The HAMET proposal involves helicopters briefly touching down on and flying over public lands. Fort Carson is requesting use of 43 landing zones with a total of 6,200 landings per year.
The BLM prepared a draft Environmental Assessment addressing issues pertaining to wildlife, recreation, noise, and cultural resources, among others. The draft EA, maps, and information can be found on the BLM ePlanning site https://go.usa.gov/xywF7. The public comment period has ended, and we are awaiting the release of the final Environmental Assessment.
The map below shows the proposed landing sites and the noise impacts that will affect multiple communities and the surrounding areas. The proposed action has the potential to impact homes, cultural resources, wildlife, recreation and income generated from visitors to the area.
Bureau of Land Management Releases Draft Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan
The Bureau of Land Management has released the Draft Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan & Environmental Impact Statement (RMP). Once finalized, this plan will establish specific goals, objectives, allowable uses, management actions, and special designations for managing lands within the Royal Gorge Field Office.
The public was invited to participate during the 90-day public comment period that ended September 20, 2019. This RMP will govern the use of our public lands for the next two decades, so we are anxiously awaiting the publication of the final RMP.
April 24th: Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety Rejects Appeal of the Approval of the Dawson Gold Project NOI Permit Modification
In February, the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS) approved a modification to the Dawson Gold Project Notice of Intent to Prospect (NOI). This modification allows Zephyr Minerals to expand the Dawson Gold Project further east toward the Dawson Ranch Subdivision. This also allows them to build new roads that may intersect the Hot Shots Trail of the popular Section 13/South Canon Trails according to Zephyr's representative, Angela Bellantoni, of Environmental Alternatives: https://dnrweblink.state.co.us/drms/0/edoc/1275362/2019-03-28_REVISION%20-%20P2013002.pdf?searchid=29069fbf-7072-4aa6-82b7-660d26e65fb4.
The DRMS decision was appealed, and the Mined Land Reclamation Board agreed to hear the petition for appeal at the March 27-28, 2019, Board Meeting. On March 19, Zephyr requested a continuance of the hearing until the April 24th-25th Board Meeting. At the April 24th hearing, the appeal was denied based on the lack of DRMS jurisdiction regarding Zephyr Minerals' lack of legally established access to their areas of operation.
During the hearing, the Board Chairman inquired whether Zephyr had easements or rights-of-way to access their claims. Both the DRMS staff and the appellants testified that neither existed. It was later noted by another Board member that Fremont County Planning and Zoning had lifted the contingency placed on the Dawson Gold Project County Conditional Use Permit (CUP) requiring proof of legally established access to all areas of exploration. The Board member inquired of the appellants why the county had provided a letter stating that Zephyr's access had been "legally established" when neither easements nor rights-of-way existed. The appellants responded that there are no legal agreements between Zephyr and the multiple property owners, thus there is no legally established access, and the Planning and Zoning Division should never have lifted the contingency.
April 11th: Colorado State Land Board Approves Grape Creek-Horseshoe Mountain State Stewardship Trust Land Mining Lease
On April 11th, after acknowledging the large number of letters received in opposition, the Colorado State Land Board (SLB) approved Zephyr Minerals' request for a mineral lease for the Grape Creek-Horseshoe Mountain State Stewardship Trust Land adjacent to the southwest corner of Temple Canyon Park. In a 4 to 1 vote, the SLB voted to lease this property for $1,920 per year. Grape Creek runs throughout this parcel making it a popular fishing as well as hunting destination.
The details of the lease as well as the nearly 200 pages of opposition can be found in the meeting packet at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1VeD8X_zNbdsxAuu2Y31LTF4etbAUsABc/view.
The next steps of the process will be the permitting of this expansion of the project at both the county and state levels. Please watch for our email updates about the public input timelines of these very important steps.