This letter was submitted by Jason Willis on behalf of TU. We are reprinting it as our chapter also submitted a comment, and we are very impressed by the level of technical detail in this one.

Jason Willis, P.E. – CO AML Program Manager
128 East 1st Street
Salida, CO 81201
(719) 221-0411

March 25, 2020

Trout Unlimited Public Comment for Oro Vista Mine Proposal

TO: Amy Titterington – Geologist and AML Coordinator -719-836-2031 South Park Ranger District – USFS
P.O. Box 219 – 320 HWY 285
Fairplay, CO 80440

Dear Ms. Titterington,

Please accept the following comments pertaining to the proposed mining operations on the Oro Vista #1, #2, and #3 (herein as Oro Vista Claim Block) 12 miles north of Buena Vista, CO.

As one of the leading cold-water conservation organizations, TU strives to protect, restore, reconnect, and sustain our nation’s waterways. Since TU was founded in 1959, on-the-ground restoration of streams, watersheds, and fisheries has been our hallmark. TU has been completing abandoned mine land (AML) project work across Colorado since the early 2000’s. Specifically, TU has completed over 30 reclamation projects across the State since 2012 that focus on water quality improvement, non-point source contamination reduction, and revegetation of degraded landscapes. Through this work, and other AML advocacy, TU is viewed as an industry expert in the mine reclamation field. We commonly work with USFS on various reclamation sites across the Region and are aware common steps necessary to properly reclaim and conduct mining operations. The comments and concerns below seek to gain clarification, knowledge, and intent of proposed operations on a Gold Medal listed river.

  • Section IV-C – Stated that 4-6 yards (cubic yards?) will be dredged per day and dredge capacity is 5 yards per hour of sand-sized material. Which is going to happen on site, because 5 yards per hour over the course of an 8 hour work day is approximately 35 yards more than 5 yards per day. This needs to be clarified. Additional clarification should be also added to the location, area and direction of the intended dredging.
  • Section IV-C – Assuming 5 yards per day over 216 proposed work days equals 1,080 yards of material. This is a lot of material to be removed from the 1,600 SF maximum site disturbance footprint.
  • Is this excavated material all going back into the dredge trench?
  • Is that material going to be placed below the high water mark (HWM)?
  • If so, more detail is needed on how material will be compacted and reclaimed other than
    placing 4” rock/gravel on top. Unconsolidated material placed below the HWM will be mobilized by high flows downstream. This will create an over-widened section of river that will have the potential to cause immediate up, and downstream degradation of channel habitat.
     How is 4” rock being generated for placement? Will there be a grizzly on site to ensure proper gradation?
  • Is this 1,080 yards of material specified in the Army Corp of Engineers permit? If not, it needs to be, and a detailed plan of reclamation needs to follow.
     In regards to appropriate permitting, the applicant intends to commence operations on April 1st, 2020. This timeline will not allow for appropriate permit application, review or corrections; thus the timeline of operations should be adjusted to accommodate appropriate permit review.
  • Section IV-C – If they are not already clearly identified, drill hole locations should be clearly mapped and identified to be within, or outside of, the riparian zone. Areas of drill hole disturbance should be included in the site reclamation plan and appropriately revegetated and restored.
  • Section IV-C – Locations, number and flow rate of water pumps should be clearly identified in this application. Protective screens and/or additional protective measures should also be identified in this plan of operations. Finally, the applicants indicate that watercraft will be able to pass by the site but make no mention of fish passage as required by “Guidelines For Operating Equipment Within A Stream Channel On The PSICC”. This applicant should provide additional information on how operations will protect the existing environment and fish populations in this valuable fishery.
  • Section IV-C – “Any dry-land disturbance will be reclaimed and reseeded with FS approved seed mixture. Reclamation will occur at end of each mining season.” In addition to seed, erosion control blankets, wattles, and/or combination of wood straw should be placed in addition to seed. Seed will do nothing for revegetation without other amendments.
  • This emphasizes the need for more detailed operations and reclamation plans for this operation. Typically, mine applicants also consult their local NRCS office staff in order to affirm the appropriateness of their seed mix selection.
  • Section IV-C –Applicant should supply additional information on the operational timeline for this site. Typically, operational timelines include dates, seasonal timelines, approximate length of time for development of each aspect of the project and specific reclamation timelines per phase of project. This applicant has not appropriately supplied this information and should clarify the timeline of operations.
  • Section IV-E -This application does not appropriately provide “engineering design and geotechnical information for project facilities, justification and calculations for sizing of tanks, pipelines and water diversions” as required by the application. Information on these structures should be included in this application to provide the appropriate level of detail for this application.
  • TU has worked in collaboration with various non-profits and municipalities to reclaim historic dredge mines. Due to the nature of how target metals are extracted in dredge operations, surface water interactions with the hyporheic zone and groundwater aquifers becomes highly altered, the impacts to natural hydrology cannot be understated. Moreover, destabilizing large amounts of stream channel substrates often brings non-target impacts to downstream reaches, ultimately creating future issues for consumptive users, aquatic organisms (i.e., fish and macroinvertebrates), and recreational users to name a few.
  • Due to the complex nature of stream sediment matrixes, remedial action to recover hydrologic processes if often costly and rarely attains pre-disturbance conditions.
  • Section V-A – Additional information should be included to describe the dust suppression/mitigation plan for this site. Typically, applicants provide information on frequency and timing of truck traffic, number and type of trucks travelling to and from the site and how recreational and residential use of the area will be respected.
  • Section V-B –Applicant states that they do not currently have knowledge of State and Federal water quality standards that are applicable to this site. These standards are publicly available and applicants working in stream or riparian environments should have awareness and knowledge of the standards they will be held to during operation. If the applicant is unaware of State and Federal standards, they should consult with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to understand these standards and to determine the appropriateness of a site-specific discharge
  • Section V-B – What measures will ensure a wash-out does not occur of impoundment during
    summer thunderstorms?
  • State WQ standards for sediment can be stringent. Who will be testing downstream water
    quality to ensure operation is meeting standards? At what frequency will this testing take place and who will review the data gathered? What is the recourse if standards are exceeded?
  • Section V-B-5-1 – Applicant should indicate the volume and rate of river water to be used for washing. Before discharge from dredge to river, applicant must ensure water quality is not degraded. Typically, mine applicants include a sediment management and flow management plan along with their application to ensure they will not be impacting the hydrologic balance at their operational site. The plan of operations included in this application is incomplete and the current outlined plan includes a high potential for degraded water to re-enter the system and/or sediment release through poor sediment management.
  • Section V-B-5-2 – Silt, sand and clay being covered with cobble is not an effective way of stabilizing fine-grained sediment. If high flows come into contact with that material, it will just be mobilized back into the river, further creating instability with overlying cobble. This material needs to be properly revegetated. Typically, mine applicants will provide a systematic reclamation plan for all disturbed areas. A thorough reclamation plan is missing from this application and must be included in this application.
  • Section V-B-5-3 – Applicant should consult with the Colorado Department of Health and Environment regarding the appropriateness of their sampling plan and to ensure the applicant is properly testing for required analytes. Given the applicants lack of knowledge of appropriate State and Federal water quality standards indicated in the beginning of Section V-B, the applicant appears to need additional information on appropriate water quality metrics and sampling techniques. The applicant’s suggestion to utilize multiple layers of silt fence to mitigate sediment loading is an incomplete solution as it does not indicate how this silt fence will be safely removed to present extensive sediment release, nor does it indicate how appropriate safety measures will be installed to ensure the sediment catchment system will not be overwhelmed and potentially damage downstream water users and the environment. Typically, applicants develop a complete sediment management plan and an extensive reclamation plan to address these concerns; this application lacks both of these plans.
  • Section V-B-5-A small settling pond or small plastic pool to catch sediment? This should be an engineered pond as the operations are on a major water of the US. More detail and emphasis needs to be placed on this aspect of the project!
  • Again, typically new mine applications will include a detailed map and plan for sediment retention ponds. These plans include dimensions, grade, flow calculations for incoming and outgoing surface and (when applicable) groundwater flows, settling time, and safety measures. This incomplete application does not include any of these crucial plan details.
  • Section V-B-5-All permits from Army Corp of Engineers should be made available for public review. Again, the timeline for operations do not appear to take into account the necessary time to develop a complete permit. If operations commence on April 1st, 2020, it is very unlikely the Army Corps of Engineers will have adequate time to review this pending application.
  • Section V-C-This description of management of solid wastes on site is incomplete. Applicant has not adequately addressed the frequency of maintenance on the portable toilet, its location relative to the river and riparian area or stormwater controls to protect water quality.
  • Mining operations are specified to take place 216 days per year. In Section V-E it is specified that no dredging will occur from Sept 30 through April 1st. It is also specified earlier that operations will take place after runoff. Runoff subsides typically in mid-July leaving substantially less than 216 available days to conduct mining operations. This should be revised to be more realistic given site location and restrictions of spawning and high water.
  • Section V-E also does not describe fish passage measures as required by the PSICC, nor does it describe screen protections on pumping equipment to protect fish.
  • Section V-G-1-Applicant does not adequately list the hazardous materials that will be utilized on site or how each will be stored. If oil and gas are the only potentially hazardous materials on site that should be clarified. If they are not, the applicant needs to provide significantly more information on their chemical management plan. How will the public be kept safe in this high- recreation use area? Will appropriate signage be utilized on site per chemical? What is the disposal plan? Typically, mine applicants intending to utilize hazardous wastes on site must have an approved chemical management plan designed to protect workers, the public and the environment; this incomplete application does not include this vital information.
  • Section V-G-3- Applicant’s plan for notification is incomplete. Which agencies will be notified? In which order? Who are the contacts at those agencies? Who is responsible for those calls on site?
  • Applicant also mentions that potentially contaminated dirt will be “removed from the site”. Who will determine if that soil is contaminated? How will they do that? How frequently will they review site conditions? How will that contaminated material be managed? This incomplete application does not include any of these standard environmental protection measures.
  • Section V-H-The reclamation plan supplied by the applicant is completely inadequate. Reclamation in this a valuable Gold metal fishery and popular recreation area should be held to the highest standards in our State. This reclamation plan lacks basic components like a map, timeline, grading and revegetation plan, stormwater and weed control plan and monitoring plan. Without these basic components this reclamation plan is woefully incomplete and does not adequately protect land users, managing agencies, recreational or residential users or the environment.
  • What is the amount of the reclamation bond? This should be provided so it can be verified it is enough to complete reclamation. Given the lack of information in the Reclamation section of the application, there is concern enough bonding is currently being requested.
  • The Oro Vista Claim Block sets a dangerous precedent if lack of forethought by the claimants concerning BMPs are not vetted throughout this public comment period.

Best Regards,

Jason Willis
Trout Unlimited CO AML Program Manager