Garfield County to BLM: Don’t rush environmental review of quarry water study
Garfield County contends the Bureau of Land Management isn’t being open about the environmental assessment of proposed well drilling on RMR Industrial’s quarry site grinds on.
“We find this highly uncharacteristic of the BLM, considering that their required obligation is to alert the county to the proposed (environmental assessment), as they have done in recent history,” said Fred Jarman, Garfield County deputy manager, at a commissioners meeting Tuesday.
The Garfield County commissioners voted unanimously to send a letter Tuesday urging the BLM’s Silt field office to perform “a thoughtful, thorough, and complete analysis of the potential impacts of RMR’s proposal” to drill test wells as part of a hydrological study.
“We believe the BLM has an obligation … to notify the board of county commissioners that they’re pursuing this, what the timeline looks like, those kinds of things,” Jarman said.
The hydrology study is required for the Environmental Impact Statement the BLM will conduct on RMR’s proposed expansion of the existing limestone quarry north of Glenwood Springs.
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The city of Glenwood Springs requested to be a formal cooperating agency on the environmental assessment, meaning they are involved with decisions about the process and issues of the environmental assessment, BLM spokesman David Boyd said.
The county could also request to be a cooperating agency, Boyd added.
“Certainly, if a local government wants to be a cooperator, we will work with them on that. It’s more common on (Environmental Impact Statements), and the larger documents that take more time, and has a lot more detail,” Boyd said.
Initially, the BLM considered using a “categorical exclusion,” the lowest level of environmental review, to approve the hydrological study. Due to the intense interest and controversy surrounding the quarry project, the BLM opened a public scoping process on the test wells, and asked the county to comment Sept. 25, 2019.
“Since that time, the BLM has provided no notice to Garfield County regarding their proposed process, which would typically include an invitation to the county to comment, and also a proposed timeline for decisions,” Jarman said.
After receiving 250 comments, virtually all opposed to the drilling, and getting a last-minute letter from Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) urging caution about potential damage to the hot springs’ source waters, the BLM decided to conduct the environmental assessment in December.
BLM guidance from June 2019 differentiates between “simple” and “complex” environmental assessments. The simple assessment is for routine and noncontroversial proposals, while the complex version “reflects a project that has more than three issues for analysis and more than one action alternative,” according to the guidance.
The county believes the quarry’s drilling proposal requires the “complex” format, which usually looks at more than two options — in this case, the BLM could study the impacts of the proposed test wells, the impacts of taking no action, or other options in between.
BLM guidance from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt in 2017 set a target of 90 days for environmental assessment. But according to Boyd, the BLM considers the start date of the current environmental assessment was in September when the categorical exclusion process was announced, so the 90-day target has already been exceeded.
The county also asked the BLM to receive more public comments, in part due to the recently discovered cave known as Witches’ Pantry that was not publicized before the scoping period.
According to Boyd, a draft environmental assessment would not necessarily require another round of public comments.
“Often with an environmental assessment like this we wouldn’t put it back out for public comment, because we scoped the proposal,” Boyd said.
Boyd declined to give a timeline for the completion of a draft environmental assessment for the test wells.
In addition to the hydrological study, the BLM also needs to complete a cave/karst report, an ethnographic study, and a mineral examination before the environmental impact statement on the larger expansion proposal begins.
“It’s really hard to estimate when we would start the (environmental impact statement) with scoping given all these other things that need to be completed,” Boyd said.
There’s a possibility that the scoping could begin in late 2020, Boyd said. “It could be possible then, but it might be later than that,” Boyd said.
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