It took a couple of hours Friday evening for Custer County Planning and Zoning Commission members to hash out their positions on a conditional use permit for a mine near Darlington.

In the end, the commission approved the permit and attached a list of conditions that US Calcium officials must adhere to in order to continue operating.

Reaching a compromise was mentioned just moments into the meeting by commission member Gordon Vaden.

“I feel there’s got to be some middle ground where we can work this out,” Vaden said. He suggested attaching conditions to a permit and told fellow board members “If they’re not doing it, we can end it.”

Commission members agreed to issue a permit for six months and require that US Calcium operate only between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. seven days a week, set off blasts only between noon and 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, begin to address floodplain concerns, ensure compliance with the county’s light ordinance, comply with dust standards set by the Department of Environmental Quality and noise level standards set by the Mine Safety and Health Administration and provide proof of any permits required by the DEQ, Bureau of Land Management and Idaho Department of Lands. Proof of permits must be provided to the county by the end of January. And the company must hire an engineering firm to help correct the issues.

Commission Chairwoman Corinne Jones said she wished US Calcium “had been more of a team player” and said she isn’t “happy with the noise and dust” from the mine. She also said mine officials weren’t doing what they told commission members they would do during a Nov. 4 public hearing on the permit request, which she said included reducing operating hours.

Commission member Brant Tritthart said US Calcium isn’t demonstrating “responsible mining.” A mine employee himself, Tritthart said “I hate to see bad mining because it gives us a bad name. We have finally got to a point where people see” mining can be done responsibly.

Tritthart wondered why the calcium mine doesn’t have dust monitors on site and a third party to evaluate data from monitors. He pointed out that a common mining practice is to conduct dust-producing work in enclosed areas to reduce the amount of dust particulates that spread beyond a mine site. “I don’t see where that was ever looked at,” Tritthart said. “It’s a lot different than what I’ve done to get a mine up and running. Did DEQ or BLM or IDL drop the ball? I’d like to know more of that. I’m not sure what happened to the overseers of this, but we need to right that.” He also said more than once that the mine lacks an air quality permit.

Commission member Terri Pritchett said she found it “hard to believe” that since the mine began operating in 2012 “you wouldn’t know you need to comply with DEQ and the county.” She wants the mine to be in compliance and have all the required permits. “I don’t think they are,” Pritchett said.

Commission member Dan Woolley said he wants US Calcium to provide engineering proof and studies related to the mine’s operation. He said it seems that the company moved in, brought equipment, started mining and did no studies.

That was reiterated by commission member Gary Chamberlain. “If they’d got an engineer they would have known there would be dust or noise problems,” he said.

“I’ve given this a lot of thought,” Chamberlain said. “I’m quite upset with the company for incurring the wrath of the county as they have.” He wanted the six month period to allow mine officials to fix issues and provide the county with more information.

Woolley said six months might not be enough time for US Calcium to get all it needs from various government entities. So, commission members agreed that if certain items on the check list weren’t finished in six months, US Calcium instead needs to prove that work is underway.

Some discussion took place about the potential for flood danger at the mine. Planning and Zoning Administrator Jessica Clemenhagen, who doubles as the county’s floodplain administrator, said the berms that have been created at the mine have changed the floodplain. But specifics of floodplain issues need to be addressed with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, she said.

Since the planning commission issued a conditional use permit that’s valid for six months, Custer County Prosecuting Attorney Justin Oleson pointed out that US Calcium must reapply for another conditional use permit to continue mining beyond the six months. “If they don’t apply, they may be shut down. “If you say ‘yes with conditions,’ if they don’t comply, we do something.”

US Calcium paid about $10,000 in fines to the county last week as a result of not halting work as ordered in a Sept. 28 notice to cease and desist order issued by Clemenhagen because of the absence of a conditional use permit from the county.

The planning commission meets Dec. 9 at which time Jones said they’ll consider adopting the findings of facts and conclusions of law in the issue. Once that document has been approved, Clemenhagen must send the findings to US Calcium and the company has 30 days to appeal the commission’s decision.

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