Coal Basin cleanup hits funding hurdle | AspenTimes.com
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Coal Basin cleanup hits funding hurdle

Jeremy Heiman

The reclamation of the Coal Basin mine site near Redstone, formerly operated by Mid-Continent Resources, has fallen short of funds, according to a professional reclamation consultant.A report on the project was released last month by L.F. Brown & Associates Inc., of Idaho Springs. In it, Larry Brown writes that Colorado’s Division of Minerals and Geology is doing as good a job as can be expected with the funding available, but much more money would be needed to do the job right.The bankrupt Mid-Continent was required to put up a bond of $3 million for reclamation, and that money is mostly spent. But Brown’s report indicates the cost of completing the reclamation should be more like $4.6 to $4.7 million.Brown is a former member of the state’s Mined Land Reclamation Board. The report was commissioned by the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association (CVEPA).Reclamation is at a standstill as a result of a restraining order against the DMG, granted to Mid-Continent in August. The corporation balked at the expenditure of bond money for DMG’s attempts to revegetate steep cut-and-fill slopes above and below roads built for coal hauling.Mid-Continent claimed in litigation that the steep-slope revegetation being done by DMG is experimental, has been a failure and is not called for or authorized in the reclamation plan.Brown’s report disagrees. “The project should not be stopped,” Brown wrote. “In fact, the steep- slope reclamation is one of the most important aspects of the entire project.” He writes that these steep slopes are a result of poor planning and construction and are subject to erosion and leaching of minerals into nearby creeks.Mike Mechau, President of CVEPA, said the areas Mid-Continent doesn’t want the state to revegetate were at one time in much better shape.”A lot of those areas were verdant slopes, covered with grass and trees,” Mechau said. “They literally cut huge chunks out of the mountain and dumped them over the edge.” He said the correct way to reclaim that area would be to move the fill back into the road cuts, but because the DMG is working with limited funds, there hasn’t been enough money to do that.Mechau said Steve Renner, who is managing the reclamation effort for the DMG, is doing a good job of stretching the available funds to complete the reclamation. Renner, contacted in Grand Junction, said he could not comment on the steep-slope revegetation because he is bound to confidentiality as one of the requirements of court-ordered mediation between the state and Mid-Continent.Mechau doesn’t express much hope for results from the mediation. “Our fear is the state will give up some of the meager money they were awarded by the bankruptcy court,” he said.But Brown’s report says the job must be completed. “The state and federal reclamation laws and regulations require that all sites be adequately reclaimed, no matter the value of the bond,” Brown wrote. “If adequate reclamation of this site costs $5 million, the law requires (Mid-Continent) to provide for that level of reclamation.”Mechau agrees. “We’re hoping interested citizens and the county commissioners will try to influence the state to seek the additional funds needed to stop the sediment pollution and erosion up there,” he said. The state should sue Mid-Continent’s owners to recover the full costs of reclamation instead of imposing the expenses on the public, he said.Other reclamation work is under way in Coal Basin, though. Renner said his crews are working on a feature called the old refuse pile. This work is being funded by federal grants from coal-mine taxes, Renner said.Renner said the work involves reducing the slope angle of the old refuse pile, which is on the edge of Coal Creek, and is eroding into the creek. “The slopes are very steep and prone to erosion,” he said. Mid-Continent has claimed it cannot pay more for reclamation because it is being sued by Pitkin County for back taxes not paid in the bankruptcy settlement.


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