us calcium dust 11.18

Dust from the US Calcium mine at Darlington blows up from the ground in this photo taken earlier this year. Neighbors are unhappy with the dust, noise and damage from the mine.

A few dozen Leslie, Moore and Darlington-area residents continue to wait for a decision related to a calcium mine operating along U.S. Highway 93 south of Mackay.

US Calcium has been ordered by Custer County to stop mining at its Darlington property because of the absence of a conditional use permit from the county. The permit is needed because the mine is located on private land zoned transitional agriculture. US Calcium bought 166 acres near Moore in 2012. A notice to cease and desist operations was sent to US Calcium officials on Sept. 28 by County Planning and Zoning Administrator Jessica Clemenhagen. But daily mining continues.

US Calcium did finally apply for a conditional use permit and a public hearing on that permit was held before the planning commission on Nov. 4. The commission didn’t vote after listening to comments. Another planning commission meeting is set for 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 19 at the Challis Community Event Center to continue discussion of the mine. Additional public comment won’t be accepted at the Nov. 19 meeting, planning and zoning Chairwoman Corinne Jones said. Rather, commission members will deliberate and vote on the permit.

Clemenhagen’s letter states US Calcium was told in 2012 it needed a conditional use permit. Since then, the letter states, the mining operation has expanded and no permit was ever issued by the county. Clemenhagen’s letter stated if the mine continued to operate in violation of county rules after Oct. 1, the mine’s parent company, Darlington Land Holdings, could be fined and company officials could be jailed.

About a month after Clemenhagen contacted the mining company, the Idaho Attorney General’s Office sent US Calcium a letter about their failure to comply with a consent order from the state Department of Environmental Quality.

In an Oct. 27 letter on behalf of the DEQ, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Carlson wrote that US Calcium had failed to submit a complete application for an air quality permit to construct and the company was failing to reasonably control fugitive dust at the mine. A plan to control that dust was due to DEQ by Feb. 25, but not submitted until Aug. 30, she wrote.

According to Carlson’s letter, US Calcium was granted three extensions to complete the air quality permit by April 11. In an Aug. 31 letter, DEQ officials “strongly encouraged” the company to finish that application and establish a reasonable due date for a fourth extension of the permit. Since no communication followed from US Calcium to the DEQ the matter was referred to the Attorney General’s Office, Carlson wrote.

According to Carlson’s letter, Custer County has received complaints from mine neighbors about the dust, indicating that US Calcium is not practicing sufficient measures to control dust.

The DEQ fined US Calcium $4,000 for failing to obtain an air quality permit and failing to control dust, but reduced the amount by 40 percent based on US Calcium’s “good faith representation.”

The 40 percent reduction dropped the fines to $1,600. A provision remains to assess the full $4,000.

People who live near the mine say it’s the excessive dust and noise that’s become so bothersome. As mining has moved closer to the highway and ramped up in the last two or so years, dust is more prevalent and the noise from the 24/7 operation prevents them from opening their windows on summer evenings. Bright lights used after dark are distracting and result in light pollution, they say.

The half dozen neighbors who gathered for an interview with the Messenger said some of them have been reaching out to various regulatory agencies for about a decade complaining about the mine, but made no progress. They all said they were shocked to learn the mine wasn’t fully permitted and only about two years ago did they learn that a permit was required from the county. About 20 neighbors spoke at the Nov. 4 planning commission hearing and about 25 filed comments or complaints with the county about the mine.

Several complaint letters to the county pointed out that the mine operates 24 hours a day, causing excessive dust and noise and neighbors never get a break from the disruptions.

“We want significant restrictions,” neighbor Dan Bell said. He would prefer that the planning and zoning commission deny the conditional use permit.

Another neighbor, Gary Rogers, says he has faith in the planning and zoning commission to “do the right thing.”

“It’s a tremendously dirty operation,” said Dave Fullmer who lives directly across the highway from the mine. The excavators that carve the rock are noisy as is the crushing equipment. The blasts to loosen the materials are loud and shake the ground far from the mine site, he said.

Fullmer’s neighbor Burdette Brunson said he’s noticed cracks in some windows in his home, which he attributes to the blasts. One recent blast “shook my entire house,” he said.

Fullmer worries about what travelers on the Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway, which includes the stretch of U.S. 93 from Challis to Arco think as they drive by a mine. “Millions of cars travel the scenic byway,” Fullmer said. He also thinks the mine and its dust and noise will reduce property values.

In a letter to the planning commission, neighbor Mike Coleman said he didn’t pay much attention to the mine until a few years ago when he and his sons tried to access BLM land where they hunt and found the road blocked by a locked gate.

“We couldn’t understand how they could legally block it off but assumed they had done so through appropriate channels,” Coleman wrote. “Since then, I have learned of things that make me question if BLM even knew of it.”

Coleman, like others, complained of the excessive dust, noting he had complained to the DEQ about dust in 2018, and of the “incessant noise.”

“I cherish the rivers and land around me,” Coleman wrote to planning and zoning board members. “I enjoy quiet evenings in my backyard. I am not against mining, but I believe that allowing a mining company with such demonstrated disregard for environmental requirements operating so close to Leslie residences is absolutely wrong.”

In documents presented to the planning and zoning commission, US Calcium officials said a water truck “is driven around the site continuously sprinkling water during days of operations when the environment is dry to reduce fugitive dust created during the extraction process. Other pieces of equipment have mister arms which apply more water to the ground and piles, further reducing the creation of fugitive dust.” That document states that when it’s too windy to maintain “minimal fugitive dust creation, our procedure is to cease operations and self-report to the Idaho DEQ.”

Darlington resident Eleanor Fullmer told county officials in her complaint that as a young girl she “watched the dredge destroying the beautiful Yankee Fork of the Salmon River. This left a lasting impression on me. Today I am watching right out of my very window the disastrous calcium strip mining of the Darlington Butte.”

Krista Mendenhall wrote planning and zoning members of multiple concerns including worries about erosion from the “large scar growing on the side of the mountain where they are blasting,” and the possibility of a snow or mudslide from it into the river and private property.

Mark and Alison Thomas of Mackay said in their complaint to Custer County that they worry about the blasting disrupting the aquifer and water table “which could impact private wells in the surrounding area.” They asked “who is monitoring this mining operation for the health and safety of the community and environment?”

In a complaint to Custer County, Moore residents Ryan and Susan Jones voiced their concern about noise and dust reaching levels that are “not only annoying but also having a detrimental affect (sic) on the health of nearby residents and animals.”

US Calcium’s document countered the noise issues by saying they have created trenches surrounded by bales of straw that trucks drive through. “The straw absorbs much of the noise of equipment and rock being dumped into trucks.” Berms and piles of product placed strategically are also expected to “help absorb the sound of our operations,” the document states.

Letters of support to approve the conditional use permit were submitted to the county by Amalgamated Sugar and J.D. Heiskell and Co. The Amalgamated letter said getting a steady supply of high calcium limestone to filter and refine its sugar is imperative to its operation. “US Calcium is an important supplier due in large part to the location and quality of limestone provided from the Darlington operation,” Troy Lentell of Amalgamated Sugar wrote.

Todd Gearhart of J.D. Heiskell in Twin Falls said the feed manufacturing company which he oversees relies on “a strong supply chain” near its Magic Valley operations, which includes US Calcium. US Calcium provides J.D. Heiskell with “a very fundamental product — high quality calcium,” Gearhart wrote. He said approval of the conditional use permit is “essential for businesses like ours to provide the quality of products to Idaho businesses.”

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