Garfield County imposes moratorium on new mining permits

A large truck similar to the trucks that would be used by RMR struggles to make the sharp right turn on Devereux road on Friday morning.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

For the next six months, Garfield County will not accept applications for new or amended mining and gravel projects.

The stated purpose of the moratorium is to allow time for staff and planning commissioners to develop the 2030 comprehensive plan and make adjustments to the land-use code.

But the moratorium will also prevent RMR Industrials from seeking a change to its special use permit for the Mid-Continent limestone quarry north of Glenwood Springs.

RMR is in the process of applying for a permit to expand operations from about 20 acres to 321 acres of active limestone extraction. The Bureau of Land Management is preparing to begin an environmental review in 2020.

County staff believe “it’s in everyone’s best interests if we take a short break from accepting new applications for gravel and mining extraction activities while we develop these regulations,” Garfield County community development director Sheryl Bower told the commissioners Monday.

The county has no pending applications for gravel or mineral extraction permits at the moment, though Bower noted they expect a gravel application in the next several weeks that would be affected by the proposal.

The moratorium is designed to give the county time to develop land use codes that protect health, safety and outdoor recreation in the community, Bower said.

Chairman John Martin asked if the moratorium was absolutely necessary while code updates are made.

“If we announce that we’re going to start looking at our regulations­—I’ve been through this before that you get applications that are going to try to get in before we start making the changes,” Bower said.

The resolution passed unanimously, but Martin made it clear that he doesn’t like moratoriums.

“I’m going to say aye, but I just hate moratoriums. I just want people to know that. I’m not trying to put anybody out of business,” Martin said.

The moratorium comes after a lawyer for RMR told the state mining regulatory body that it would be applying for an updated permit from the county.

The county is currently fighting a lawsuit from RMR about their current special use permit.

The board issued a notice of violation to RMR in May after finding that the quarry was out of compliance with their current permit. In response, RMR sued the county in federal and state court, claiming that the county had no authority to enforce a permit that conflicted with the BLM’s authorization.

Both court cases are pending, but a federal judge in October recommended letting the state case proceed.

In an Oct. 31 letter, the Division of Reclamation and Mining Safety asked RMR how it was addressing the compliance issues with Garfield County’s permit.

RMR’s attorney David McConaughy told the mining division in a Nov. 6 letter that while RMR “expects to obtain a court order invalidating the (notice of violation), it is simultaneously applying to Garfield County for a new special use permit” to resolve the noncompliance issues and correct discrepancies with the BLM and state permits.

McConaughy did not respond to a request for comment about the county’s moratorium.

Two representatives of the Glenwood Springs Citizens Alliance, a community group opposed to the quarry expansion, thanked the commissioners for considering the moratorium.

Leo McKinney, president of the Citizens Alliance and former Glenwood Springs mayor, said the moratorium will give the commissioners a chance to develop tools that benefit the county in considering large projects.

“You have a lot of land uses to consider and to balance out. A moratorium like this will give you the chance to develop the tools that you will need when huge applications come before you that are going to affect the county for the next 40, 50 years,” McKinney said.

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