Mined Land Reclamation Board Approves Permit for Expansion of Mine on Dakota Hogback

The Dakota Hogback is a geological formation near Red Rocks.
The Dakota Hogback is a geological formation near Red Rocks. IveGoneAway, via Wikimedia Commons
The seven-member Mined Land Reclamation Board has unanimously approved a permit change for the Denver Brick Company’s Acme Mine, located on the Dakota Hogback, an area by Interstate 70 with layers of rock that provide a geological transition from the plains to the foothills.

Denver Brick filed an application in September 2021 with the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety to expand the mine. After extensive public comment, including over 185 citizen objections, the division recommended that the board approve the application at a July 20 hearing, and the board agreed.

The application asks to expand the mine’s permit from 9.9 acres of disturbance — land directly affected by the mining operation — to 70.15 acres. Richard Murphy, a representative for Denver Brick, told the hearing that the active mine area will only expand to 30.6 acres, with the rest of the space comprising roads, stockpiling areas, parking and buffer space.

The facility is a clay extraction mine that hasn’t had underground mining in eighty years and now only does campaign mining, a short-term operation designed to develop stockpiles of clay; the company then contracts with customers to draw off the stockpiles until they are depleted. Typically, fewer than two acres are mined during a campaign; according to Denver Brick, campaigns last four to eight weeks and take place every three to five years.

The proposed expansion of the mine's boundary does not include a proposed increase in activity, though nothing in the permit would prevent the company from increasing its activity.

“We don’t expect, nor have they indicated, an increase in activity,” said Michael Cunningham, a senior environmental protection specialist with DRMS.

DRMS is only in charge of assessing 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, and Denver Brick can now try to secure approval from those other agencies.

Public comment collected by DRMS related to both mining and reclamation issues as well as other factors, but DRMS identified seven specific issues within its jurisdiction: potential zoning conflicts, hydrologic balance issues, wildlife and other environmental issues, off-site damage due to blasting, mining plan adequacy, reclamation plan adequacy and completeness and accuracy of application materials. It offered information on each to the board.

In its presentation, the division noted that the Hogback will not be mined through, and that the profile of the Hogback will be maintained.

“By and large, this is an operation that will continue as it has for many years, though it may continue down a different area of the Hogback,” said Joe Middleton, an attorney representing Denver Brick at the hearing. “The Hogback is not going to be destroyed, and the mined areas are going to be reclaimed.”

Blasting will be used only when necessary, and is not the primary means of mining. According to Murphy, blasting has been done just twice in the past eight years, and that’s the pace at which Denver Brick expects it to continue. Neighbors and local police will be notified before any blasting is done.
click to enlarge
The Acme Mine is to the west of Highway 93.
DRMS Presentation
There were fourteen remaining objectors at the time of the July 20 hearing, including Protect the Hogback, a nonprofit formed by many citizens who oppose the mine expansion. At the hearing, Protect the Hogback, along with two other objecting parties, testified to concerns about groundwater contamination, impacts to wildlife and the efficacy of the reclamation plan. In response, Denver Brick questioned them about topicality and whether they were acting in accordance with proper testimonial procedures.

Mike Rawluk, a boardmember of Protect the Hogback, said that since none of them had gone through the process before, some of the procedures weren't clear.

According to Jill Nelson, a member of the reclamation board, the fact that the operation has been permitted since 1976 and hasn’t created negative impacts made her confident that approving the permit was the right choice. “I am a neighbor of this operation, and I take it very seriously about having a balance between the residential world and the industries that support us,” she said. In the end, her fellow boardmembers agreed.

According to  Rawluk, Protect the Hogback will remain involved through the process. If another agency denies an application connected to the expansion, the project could be stopped; the approval of Jefferson County supersedes that of any other agency. 
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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