SHERIDAN — After a lengthy period of review over almost seven years, local company Ramaco Carbon has received a key approval on its application to mine its private coal assets at the Brook Mine, located in a historic mining area outside Sheridan. Landowners, though, remain opposed.
Bjarne Kristiansen, permit coordinator for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s Land Quality Division District 3, informed Ramaco in a written document last week that Brook Mine’s permit application has been deemed technically complete under the Wyoming statutes governing the mine approval process.
This now opens a period of public comment before a final decision on the mine permit’s approval, anticipated during this summer. The proposed Brook Mine will be the resource element of the nation’s first vertically integrated carbon tech platform near Sheridan, which includes the Carbon Advanced Material research park campus and the future iPark mine-mouth manufacturing facilities. The overall platform is focused on using coal to create advanced products and materials, such as carbon fiber and graphene.
“We are delighted that this long review process has culminated in an application that meets and indeed exceeds the state’s high standards for approval,” said Randall Atkins, Ramaco Carbon’s chairman and CEO. “This permit demonstrates to Sheridan, and Wyoming as a whole, that we will be good stewards of this area’s high quality of life and environment. We look forward to completing the remaining steps in the permit process over the next few months and moving forward to build a Carbon Valley in this area, that focuses on creating higher value, environmental uses for coal, and one which the Sheridan community can be proud of.”
Jeff Barron, a consulting engineer for the Brook Mine, noted that application has gone through a far more thorough review than most mines in the State, passing peer review from the technical experts at WDEQ/LQD District 3, WDEQ/LQD District 1, and a third party engineering company hired by the State agency.
“This application features some of the most stringent and extensive environmental protections of any coal mine permit ever considered in Wyoming,” said Barron, who led work on the permit’s review process and revisions with WDEQ/LQD. “The fact it has passed through so many levels of review should help ensure the local community that all issues have been considered, and they will have an operation they can feel good about.
The DEQ notification grants authorization for a final public notice for the Brook Mine permit. The company will publish notice of its application for a surface coal mining permit in The Sheridan Press for a period of four weeks, after which a 30-day period will commence for individuals or entities to comment on the application to the WDEQ/LQD.
It is anticipated that the WDEQ/LQD will then proceed to schedule an informal conference during the second week in May to hear from both proponents and objectors to the permit. Ultimately, the Director of the Department of Environmental Quality will issue a written decision approving or denying the application by mid-July.
Ramaco attorney Tom Sansonetti, from law firm Holland & Hart’s Cheyenne office, noted that a decision by Laramie County District Court Judge Catherine Rogers had clarified the procedures for approving a coal permit application.
“Judge Rogers ruled that it is the exclusive domain of the DEQ Director to issue or deny the permit application after the informal conference is held,” said Sansonetti. “Brook Mine’s coal is entirely on private land. There is no federal permitting role involved. Consequently, this pending state decision will present Wyoming with the opportunity to affirm that it still welcomes new job-creating natural resource businesses, including coal mines.”
Landowners remain opposed to the business furthering action in the area, though.
“To date, Ramaco has spent years trying push through a shoddy coal mine permit,” John and Vanessa Buyok wrote via the Powder River Basin Resource Council, who emailed The Sheridan Press Monday morning. “We have both worked in the mining and regulatory industry for years. Every company that we know of has bent over backwards to make sure that concerns of impacted landowners — their neighbors — have been addressed. Ramaco has been a bad neighbor to the people in the Tongue River Valley from the beginning. Affected landowners had to work to try to ensure the permit is done right and addresses all the impacts of the proposed coal mine on our lives and on the recreation in this area.
“Their revised permit still fails to prevent impacts to our water well and the alluvial valley floor,” the Buyoks continued. “There are also serious subsidence issues on their neighbors’ properties that are not addressed. So far, nearly every public statement that Ramaco has made in the media regarding their projects in the area has turned out to be false, so we’re not reassured that the issuance of this mining permit will result in responsible mine operations regardless of what is stated in the permit.”
Landowner and Powder River Basin Resource Council Board Member Joan Tellez agreed.
“Ramaco has made a lot of promises about the number of people they would employ and how their permit meets the highest standards but none of this has turned out to be true,” Tellez said through the PRBRC email. “They have not met with the impacted landowners and they have not addressed our concerns. We do not believe they will be good neighbors based on their past actions of bullying neighbors. Finally, their reputation with landowners in Pennsylvania does not give us hope.”
*Editor’s note: This article was updated to reflect the proper spelling of Bjarne Kristiansen.