11/10/2011 Durango Herald: Wildcat’s mining permit approved – Initial access to mines allowed only for water sampling, cleanup surveys By Joe Hanel Herald Staff Writer: DENVER – State regulators approved a permit for a controversial gold mine in La Plata Canyon on Wednesday, but it comes with a long list of conditions and does not allow mining until the company has cleaned up the messes it made. Since Wildcat Mining Corp. took over historic mines near the hamlet of Mayday in 2006, it has built an illegal road, blasted two mine portals and moved a mill into one of the mines, all without a permit. All three portals into the mine have collapsed either completely or partially, endangering a road above. Water is leaking from the mine. Engineers and neighbors also have concerns about the stability of the company’s illegal road, which descends from County Road 124 across the La Plata River.
Regulators with the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety reasoned that the only way they could ensure a cleanup was to get the mines and road a new permit, which the governor-appointed Mined Land Reclamation Board approved unanimously Wednesday.
Board members stressed that the permit initially will allow access to the mines only for water sampling and other surveys needed to begin cleanup work. Without a permit, Wildcat officials are not supposed to enter the mines for any reason.
“The permit doesn’t authorize any mining or any milling,” said MLRB member Bob Randall.
Elizabeth Paranhos, who represents environmental interests on the board, said she was comfortable with plans to approve a permit with many conditions.
“What’s happening now is really a matter of data gathering without doing any further mining or milling,” Paranhos said.
Wildcat Mining also said Wednesday’s decision is a step forward.
“The Mined Land Reclamation Board’s unanimous vote today to accept the recommendation by the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety for approval with conditions for the May Day Idaho Mine Complex will allow Wildcat Mining to move forward in a measured fashion to resolve existing issues on the project site,” Randall Oser, Wildcat Mining president, said in an email. “We are pleased with DRMS’s recommendations and the Board’s work to ensure that all stakeholders have been informed and involved.”
But the assurances were not enough for several La Plata Canyon residents who testified by phone against approval of the permit.
“The division has never given a permit of this type. I don’t think now is the time to start, especially with this operator,” said Scott Collignon, a longtime critic who lives across the river from the mine.
Indeed, Wally Erickson of the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety said he doubted the state has ever approved a permit with such a long list of conditions.
Robert Abshire, a Native American student at Fort Lewis College, testified by phone from a room he said was filled with 30 fellow Native students.
The mine sits on a sacred mountain for the Navajo Nation, and it cannot be worked on without violating sacred space and possibly federal laws, Abshire said.
Wildcat lawyer Penfield Tate said the mine has been blessed by Native Americans in the past, and the company has a medicine man on retainer in case people think it needs another ceremony.
Company officials say they have a new team in place and blamed former owner Mike Clements for the company’s previous problems.
Roger Tichenor, Wildcat’s new CEO, said he didn’t appreciate the depth of the problems when he invested in Wildcat. He decided to take control of the company and bring in experts to repair the damage.
“We’re here to do things right. We’re here to make it right and run a profitable business,” Tichenor said.
But neighbor Phil Vigil isn’t convinced.
“A new owner really doesn’t make for a new operation,” Vigil said, testifying by phone.
The company will have to make a series of applications to amend the permit before it can begin mining, Erickson said.