The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has deemed a mine permit application technically complete for the second time. It's a step towards Ramaco Carbon mining between 2 and 5 million tons of thermal coal near Sheridan.
In 2017, the DEQ also signed off at this stage for Ramaco's proposed Brook Mine, but issues arose from nearby landowners, a coal company with conflicting rights, and a landowners' advocacy group. The controversy resulted in a contested-case hearing in front of the independent review board, the Environmental Quality Council (EQC).
A lengthy hearing process resulted in the 5-person board recommending the DEQ reject the permit with concerns around impacts to hydrology, blasting, and subsidence issues.
Two and half years later, the DEQ has approved at a newly revised permit application. This time, Jeff Barron, a consulting engineer for Brook Mine, said the application has gone through more thorough oversight, passing peer review from two districts within the DEQ and a third party engineering company.
"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," he said.
Randy Atkins, Ramaco Carbon CEO and chairman, agreed saying the lengthy process should provide the general public some level of comfort.
"We have tried to go the extra mile to ensure that everything we do will be subject to the most stringent environmental and execution in a safe and healthy manner," he said. "We hope in good time they will come to regard us as a good neighbor."
Atkins said he doesn't think anybody will actually see a lot of their mining operations anyway.
Still, many landowners are skeptical. John and Vanessa Buyok, members of the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a landowner's advocacy group that was active in the 2017 contested hearing case, said they're not reassured that the new permit will result in responsible mine operations.
"Their revised permit still fails to prevent impacts to our water well and the alluvial valley floor. There are also serious subsidence issues on their neighbors' properties that are not addressed," they said.
Atkins said he hopes mining can begin as soon as this summer, there are still several phases of public engagement before the permit can be finalized. He said Ramaco Carbon's research park, iCam, is also expected to be up and running by this summer.
While the DEQ alerted Ramaco that the permit was deemed complete last week, the public review period starts tomorrow and lasts for 60 days. The revised permit application will be available the at the DEQ's Sheridan and Cheyenne offices in both physical and digital form.
Keith Guille, DEQ spokesman, said the application itself is too large a file to put up online, but residents can take home the file on CD or via a USB drive.
After the 60-day period, the DEQ will schedule an informal conference to hear further public comment. After both of those phases, the DEQ director will issue a final decision approving or denying the application.