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Colorado Mining Operations Face Temporary Cessation Roadblock

Case of First Impression Overturns Mined Land Reclamation Board Ruling

On July 25, 2019, the Colorado Court of Appeals reversed a ruling of the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board (“MLRB” or “agency”) which had authorized a second period of temporary cessation for a uranium mine.  The Court in Information Network for Responsible Mining, Earthworks, and Sheep Mountain Alliance v. Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board was asked to determine if the agency properly authorized a “second period of temporary cessation” which would allow the mining permit issued by the MLRB to remain in effect.

The Mined Land Reclamation Act (“MLRA”) allows a mining permit to continue in effect even if the mining operation “temporarily cease[s] production for one hundred eighty days or more.” This statute requires that an operator file a “Notice of Temporary Cessation” with the Office of Mined Land Reclamation. § 34-32-103(6)(a)(II), C.R.S. 2018.  The statute then requires that production from the mine must be resumed within five years of temporary cessation or the operator must “file[] a report requesting an extension of the period of temporary cessation.” § 34-32-103(6)(a)(III).  The statute continues, however, and states that “[i]n no case shall temporary cessation of production be continued for more than ten years without terminating the operation and fully complying with the reclamation requirements of this article.”

In November 1999, the MLRB issued a permit to Piñon Ridge Mining for a uranium mine.  The permit released the company’s predecessor from its permit. The mine had last produced ore in 1989.  In March 2014, the Division of Reclamation, Mining, and Safety approved an initial period of temporary cessation, with an effective date of June 13, 2012.  In May 2017, the Division received a request for approval of a second period of temporary cessation for the site.

Appellants filed objections to the requested second cessation, and the MLRB held a hearing.  A representative of Piñon Ridge Mining testified that, because the depressed market price of uranium made production unprofitable, minerals had not been extracted since 1999 when it took over the mine.  Following the hearing, the MLRB approved a second period of temporary cessation.  The district court affirmed the Board’s order.  The objectors appealed and the appellate court overturned the District Court’s decision stating, in part:

Since the site’s period of temporary cessation began no later than 1999, production had to resume by 2009 to prevent termination of the operation under section 34-32-103(6)(a)(III).  But the site never recommenced production. Therefore, the Board abused its discretion in approving the request for another period of temporary cessation in 2017. Because temporary cessation of the site has continued for more than ten years, the operation must be terminated and the operator must fully comply with reclamation requirements under the MLRA.

Link to opinion:  https://www.courts.state.co.us/Courts/Court_of_Appeals/Opinion/2019/18CA1148-PD.pdf

This post was drafted by John Watson, an attorney in the Denver, CO office of Spencer Fane LLP. For more information, visit spencerfane.com.