By Daniel Smith
Mining was a big part of Fairplay’s past, but a recent mine expansion off Colo. Hwy. 9 has residents divided over its benefits versus concerns over environmental harm and change to the town’s character.
In addition, the fact that Discovery Channel’s “Gold Rush” reality TV series has been filming and aiding miners’ financing exacerbates the divisions.
A group of concerned residents, Save Park County (saveparkcountyco.org), alleges that Park County commissioners ignored citizens’ concerns, and questions whether proper procedures were followed in granting an expansion of the current mining operation by High Speed Mining, aided by the television show’s money from sponsors, including Volvo.
The group claims the county ignored the advice of its own planning commission when it approved rezoning an additional 28-acre, heavily wooded area zoned residential and dotted with homes for mining in August.
Save Park County’s co-chair, Fairplay businessman Trevor Messa, says the group filed a so-called 106 action, seeking an injunction to stop the mining and rezoning because of what they feel is an obvious incompatibility issue. The injunction was thrown out, due to procedural errors, Messa says, by a district judge who was formerly the county attorney.
After a public hearing, Messa said, commissioners held an executive session to review the matter, then later announced they had approved the rezoning, with 11 general conditions placed on the miners, from hours of operation, noise regulations, hauling of aggregate from the mine among others – but no citizen input was sought.
A civil lawsuit continues, and Save Park County has raised money for legal fees but the county has filed a motion to dismiss the suit. While some residents and county businesses have voiced support for revitalized mining, the group contends the majority of citizens have grave concerns over the future.
Save Park County is looking for support in fighting the expansion and Messa says one objective is to get the county to take a more balanced approach to preserving what the community values (Park County is designated a Natural Heritage Area) as opposed to giving a green light to mining expansion.
“We want them to go through and look for reasonable hours of operation … we want them to establish noise regulations that are compatible with the surrounding areas … so that these regs are in place for the next group of people who come in and decide that they want to mine,” he added.
He admits it’s an uphill battle. “We’re not giving up,” Messa says.