Mine Permitting in the 21st Century

As appearing in The Gold Nugget, August 2005
Patience and Persistence
by Paul Nagy

The speaker for the July 2005 meeting was a consultant to the mining industry. HE has a graduate degree from the Colorado School of Mines and is working toward another. His firm specializes in mine permitting, which today is often a prolonged, delicate, and expensive tip-toe through the bureaucratic minefields.

Before a final mining go-ahead, he has had to secure as many as twenty permits from twenty different governmental agencies, eg., zoning, health, environmental, wildlife, recreation, archeology, ad hoc councils, committees, etc., as well as approval from the general public. Of course, there is no guarantee of success.

Among recent successes is the restart of production at the Alma gold placer near Hoosier Pass in Park County. This is primarily a sand and gravel operation from nearby construction, the gold being secondary in value but significant. The placer, among the earliest found in the state, was first claimed in 1860. Also, water rights from the adjacent South Platte River, filed in 1864, are among the senior in the region and are much coveted by many municipalities.

Because the community of Alma has had a more or less continuous mining tradition since pioneering days, there was not much local opposition to the mine. However, a lot of permitting through county, state, and federal agencies was still required. Of historical interest, the new surface excavations often break into old underground workings, which were larger and more extensive than had been supposed. Underground placering is extremely dangerous because a placer is by definition unconsolidated material, highly prone to cave-in. The early miners took risks that would not be much tolerated today.

The speaker agrees with the consensus that the United States is exporting its mineral industry. This will most likely continue because although our mineral industry is very large, it represents only a small part of our overall economy. As such, it cannot generate the lobbying effort required for its own domestic survival.

Whether or not it is wise for us to import ever more of such materials as cement, iron ore and steel, gold, and crude oil will be for history to decide!

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