Land owner renews focus on mine reclamation in Coal Basin | AspenTimes.com

Land owner renews focus on mine reclamation in Coal Basin

Dennis Webb
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

REDSTONE, Colo. ” A fishing gear magnate is planning reforestation of acreage in the former Coal Basin coal mine site, amid disagreement over whether his initial work on the property might be causing damage.

John Morris, who founded the Missouri-based Bass Pro Shops, bought 217 acres in Coal Basin four miles west of Redstone, and south of Carbondale, a few years ago. The land once belonged to a company associated with Mid-Continent Resources, which ran a large coal mine there prior to declaring bankruptcy in 1992.

The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety has decided to seek to end its jurisdiction over 71 acres of the Morris property, which were part of 307 acres the division has worked on reclaiming.

The state’s decision raised concerns for Mike Mechau, who is on the board of the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association. Mechau believes Morris has undertaken earthmoving that has undone much of the reclamation work that has occurred on his property.

Mechau said the CVEPA may object to the state’s plans, and he also would like to see Pitkin County take action regarding activities on the property.

“We think that they need to go back to square one and get this thing under control and get an orderly development of the project that they are permitting up there,” Mechau said of the county.

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Steve Renner, a project manager and geologist with the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, said its authority over the private land has ended now that the reclamation is done.

“We don’t regulate people that don’t mine coal and this guy’s not mining,” he said.

Mechau said he thought Morris had violated a Pitkin County condition against excavating outside building envelopes on the property. Catherine Berg, a planning engineer for the county, said a “pretty massive” amount of earthmoving and reclamation is occurring on the land but Morris has a state storm water permit and also has been working with the county regarding proper permitting.

“We’ve been up there and we don’t see that there are any blatant violations at the moment,” she said.

Tom Newland, a land-use consultant working for Morris, said Morris is hoping to reforest the property to as close to its pre-mining condition as possible, while building just a home or two there.

“John’s real interested in going the extra mile in revegetation on that property,” Newland said.

Newland said Morris has undertaken similar projects of a larger scale in other parts of the country.

Bass Pro Shops, which Morris founded in 1971 and has grown to be a leading dealer of outdoor gear, claims on its website that it is “a strong supporter of environmental and habitat conservation organizations” and “has often been recognized for its conservation initiatives.”

The Coal Basin mining area contributed to heavy creek sedimentation that affected the local fisheries. Newland said that no matter how much reclamation work Morris does, natural steep shale outcrops in the area will mean streams still will get dirty during spring runoff.

Mechau questioned why Morris dredged sediment ponds that were designed to be maintenance-free, and he worried about what was being done with the dredged material. Renner, who oversaw the mine reclamation, said the ponds are no longer needed to catch sediment, but he left them there as potential wildlife habitat.

If Morris is dredging them to create fish habitat, “maybe that’s not a bad thing, either – I don’t know,” Renner said.

Newland said the dredged materials are being placed in an area approved by the county.

Mechau said the CVEPA also remains concerned about reclamation on the non-private lands, which Mid-Continent eventually traded to the U.S. Forest Service. He said Renner worked hard to do the most possible with the money available to him, but those funds were far too limited as a result of the outcome of litigation between Mid-Continent and the state.

Renner said Mid-Continent had a reclamation bond valued at $3 million. He said the state collected on reclamation funds as a participant in bankruptcy proceedings, and they were enough to do the job.

“We’re coming close to having expended all of the funds that were available, so from a practical perspective we’ll be done in the next year or two,” he said.

Some of the work involved backfilling mine entries, stabilizing some 15 miles of roads and reclaiming three coal waste piles.

Renner thinks the new vegetation has taken root well in Coal Basin and the land is standing up to erosion.

“I’m really pleased with the way it’s weathered out these past several years. I think it’s come really a long way,” he said.

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