Rio Arriba County Company Settles Civil Lawsuit Alleging Illegal Mining in Santa Fe National Forest
ALBUQUERQUE – U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez announced today that Copar Pumice Company, Inc., a mining company with a principal place of business in Rio Arriba County, N.M., and the owners of Copar and its affiliated companies (Copar), have paid $2.25 million to the U.S. Government to settle a civil lawsuit alleging the unauthorized mining and removal of pumice from El Cajete Mine on the Jemez National Recreational Area of the Santa Fe National Forest. The settlement agreement also requires that Copar relinquish all rights to its mining claims within the Jemez National Recreation Area and bars Copar from bidding on mineral material sales or purchasing mineral materials from the U.S.D.A. Forest Service.
The settlement agreement resolves a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department in 2009, on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, against Copar and owners Richard P. Cook, Shirley A. Cook, Debbie Cantrup, and Kelly Armstrong. According to court filings, federal laws limit the types of mining activities allowed in the Jemez National Recreation Area to protect unique resource and recreational values. Copar was authorized to remove larger-sized pumice, solely for its value and use in the stonewash laundry industry. Copar abused its mining privileges by crushing pumice and removing undersized pumice from the El Cajete Mine, and selling it for uses outside the laundry industry. When Copar refused to comply with the Forest Service’s notices to cease the unlawful practice, the Justice Department filed suit alleging that Copar had trespassed on National Forest System lands by exceeding the limits of their mining authorization.
After years of legal proceedings in the case, the Justice Department and Copar executed a settlement agreement at the end of May, 2014, resolving all of the claims in the lawsuit as well as claims in several related cases. Copar tendered the $2.25 million lump sum settlement payment in late June 2014, and yesterday the parties filed a stipulation of dismissal formally ending the litigation.
U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez commended the work of Assistant U.S. Attorney Ruth F. Keegan, Trial Attorneys Andrew A. Smith and Dominika N. Tarczynska of the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and Attorney Advisor Steve Hattenbach of the Office of General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who litigated this case on behalf of the United States.