Dakota Hogback Mine Expansion Proposal Has Neighbors Squealing

The Dakota Hogback is a geological formation near Red Rocks.
The Dakota Hogback is a geological formation near Red Rocks. IveGoneAway, via Wikimedia Commons
Mike Rawluk lives in Golden about a mile and a half east of the Dakota Hogback, an area by Interstate 70 with layers of rock that provide a geological transition from the plains to the foothills. Also on the hogback is Denver Brick Company’s Acme Mine; the company filed an application with the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety to expand the mine on September 24, 2021.

When Rawluk heard about the expansion plan, he thought it would bring mining operations too close to homes; he also wondered about the expansion's effect on the geology and hydrology of the area, as well as wildlife. Now, Rawluk is part of a nonprofit called Protect the Hogback, which residents formed to oppose the expansion.

Michael Cunningham, a senior environmental protection specialist with DRMS, says the mine, which primarily extracts clay, has held a permit since 1976, though mining operations there predate the permit. The DRMS is charged with regulating mining and reclamation activities at mineral mines across the state, watching out for the environment in the process and safeguarding abandoned sites.

The new application asks DRMS to expand the mine’s permit from 9.9 acres of disturbance, land directly affected by the mining operation, to 70.15 acres. Cunningham notes that only 46.7 acres within that footprint would be affected by mining activity, and the rest would serve as a buffer zone.

According to Richard Murphy, exploration manager for Denver Brick, the actual physical area of the mine won’t increase. Rather, the expansion will allow the company to stockpile materials away from the active mine and reclaim historic mining features that are within the area Denver Brick has leased from the State Land Board for years but aren’t part of the permitted area. Murphy says that the expansion will make the mine safer for employees, while also providing access to more raw materials and extending the life of the mine to meet modern building demands.
click to enlarge The Acme Mine is to the west of Highway 93. - DRMS PRESENTATION
The Acme Mine is to the west of Highway 93.
DRMS Presentation
The company is currently in the adequacy review phase of the process with DRMS.

“We take a detailed look at the application,” Cunningham says. “We will write a letter back to the applicant detailing any deficiencies that we found or any areas of clarification that we need. They respond to our letter, and we basically continue it in a back and forth until such time as we believe that they've satisfied all the requirements of the [Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Act].”

So far, DRMS has sent two letters to Denver Brick and is waiting on the company’s response to the second. The decision date on the application was originally set for March 31, but has been moved back as the two entities work on details.

The Protect the Hogback group is concerned about those details. “Our opposition to the expansion of the mine is primarily the mine’s proximity to the neighborhoods,” Rawluk says. “Despite all the other technical questions that I might have, or any of us in our group might have, we all still feel it's a little close to the current neighborhoods.”

Though Protect the Hogback doesn't favor the expansion, Rawluk says the group’s goal isn’t necessarily to convince other citizens to halt the project, but to make sure everyone can easily access enough information to make their own decisions.

“Mining is not my wheelhouse; I'm a pilot and musician,” Rawluk says. “So some of the more technical answers, I just don't know — but we try to provide documents for people who do and for people like me who want to learn as much as they can. We want people to learn more, go to the site, look through the documents…if they want to get involved, that's great. If they want to have a contrary opinion, that's also great. This is a free country.”

Rawluk isn’t a stranger to opposing big projects, he was part of the Ralston Valley Coalition when it opposed a proposal for an Amazon development in Arvada, which the Arvada City Council eventually rejected. He says that action taught him that there’s a professional way to oppose projects based on information rather than politics.

“We are here to figure out the information, try to interpret the information and present our side when the time comes in a professional manner,” Rawluk says. “We have nothing against the state, the company, the applicant. We're just trying to figure out if this is the right fit for the area. — and we don't seem to think so.”

Along with their concerns about the expansion's proximity to houses, members are worried about increased traffic, wildlife migration, groundwater contamination and preserving the unique geography of the hogback, which could include fossils.

click to enlarge Denver Brick Company plans to expand a mine by about 60 acres. - DRMS PRESENTATION
Denver Brick Company plans to expand a mine by about 60 acres.
DRMS Presentation
According to Murphy, Denver Brick’s proposal “is not anticipated to change the current groundwater conditions or result in any new, adverse impact to groundwater.” The same goes for traffic, he says.

DRMS isn’t in charge of assessing traffic impacts, just issues related to mining and reclamation. Other factors involved in the proposed expansion will be considered by other government entities such as the Air Pollution Control Division, the Water Quality Control Division and assorted Jefferson County agencies — but the DRMS permit is usually where people start. Ginny Brannon, division director for DRMS, says the division is “absolutely agnostic” as to whether the mine expands or not; all it does is evaluate the rules.

Over 180 people wrote to DRMS during the two public comment periods for the permit, the second of which closed on January 19. There usually is just one public comment period, but Denver Brick only ran its public notice once, when DRMS rules call for it running four consecutive weeks — so Denver Brick issued the public notice again and a second comment period opened.

“We take a look at all of the comments that we've received,” Cunningham says. “We consider those aspects of the concerns raised by the public that make their way into our formal adequacy review letters in those areas where we believe we've got jurisdiction and then we also send all of those objection letters directly to the applicant and we ask the applicant to directly respond to the concerns raised by the public.”

Cunningham says the level of public comment on this project was higher than DRMS usually receives, with responses mixed between some people who wanted clarifying information and some who definitely don’t want the proposal to be approved.

Once DRMS finishes the adequacy review, the Mined Land Reclamation Board will hold a public hearing and make a final determination on whether to approve the permit. Both DRMS and Denver Brick expect that hearing to occur this summer.

But even if the board approves this permit, if a different agency denies an application connected to the expansion, that project could be stopped. And the approval of Jefferson County supersedes that of any other agency

“That local jurisdiction has the final say,” Brannon says. “If they say no, the answer's no.”
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Catie Cheshire is a staff writer at Westword. After getting her undergraduate degree at Regis University, she went to Arizona State University for a master's degree. She missed everything about Denver -- from the less-intense sun to the food, the scenery and even the bus system. Now she's reunited with Denver and writing news for Westword.
Contact: Catie Cheshire