Garfield County approves additional $500,000 on limestone quarry legal front

Work continues at the RMI quarry adjacent to the Transfer Trail on Wednesday.
Peter Baumann / Post Independent

Garfield County commissioners have committed another $500,000 for legal expenses related to the Rocky Mountain Industrials (RMI) limestone quarry located outside Glenwood Springs.

“The county is supplementing its previous allocation, in light of the expanding scope of legal matters related to RMI’s quarry,” the county stated in a news release.

Garfield County Attorney Tari Williams advised the commissioners recently that the additional funding is necessary, “to cover some of the expenses we are incurring for the various efforts in relation to the limestone quarry.”

“This is a process that we have taken on and our constituents in eastern Garfield County have asked us to,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said, as the Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved the funding request at its July 13 meeting. “We need to move forward.”

The funds are to be paid out of the Oil and Gas Mitigation Fund, which, among other things, is intended to mitigate the impact of mineral extraction activities in the county. Earlier this month, the commissioners also tapped that fund for its lobbying efforts to try to sway oil and gas regulations in Colorado, including new air quality provisions that the commissioners oppose.

“These are funds that are not derived from property taxes,” Jankovsky noted.

In 2019, RMI filed a lawsuit in state court against the Board of County Commissioners, challenging the county’s authority to regulate the RMI mining operations. The county that year issued a notice of violation to RMI for failing to comply with the permit and county regulations governing its operations, which RMI also challenges in its lawsuit.

RMI recently amended its complaint to assert additional claims against the board, and now challenges the most recent notice of violation issued to RMI in March 2020, according to the county’s press release.

The latest violation notice was based on the county’s determination that RMI had engaged in prohibited operations during the winter months. RMI’s operations are restricted in the winter to protect wild game and environmental habitats.

“The county is in the process of certifying the record of evidence supporting this second notice of violation, and the parties thereafter will brief their positions for the court,” according to the release.

RMI also is seeking to drill monitoring wells in connection with the proposed expansion for its mine. Operators have proposed to expand the open pit quarry, located a mile north of Glenwood Springs along Transfer Trail, from about 16 acres to 447 acres. That proposal is currently before the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, but the BLM said earlier this year it would not resume its review and begin the public comment process until 2021.

While RMI and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) initially sought to drill the monitoring wells without first conducting an environmental assessment (EA), the BLM acceded to requests from county commissioners and the public to conduct an EA in light of the significant risks and uncertainty posed by the proposed drilling activity.

The county is currently participating as a cooperating agency in the EA process, seeking to ensure that RMI and BLM take all necessary precautions before proceeding with any drilling.

In the meantime, the battle is also being fought in the courtroom.

The county has sought to join the Glenwood Springs Citizens’ Alliance in a lawsuit brought in federal court against the BLM and the United States Department of Interior, among others. The lawsuit challenges BLM’s actions, and failure to take actions, related to RMI’s mining and sale of common variety limestone in a manner that does not comply with federal law.

The county is awaiting approval from the court to intervene in the lawsuit.

Last month, a Colorado Court of Appeals announced its ruling reversing an earlier District Court decision that holds RMI responsible for past and present royalty payments to former quarry owner Pitkin Iron Corp.

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