Glenwood Springs citizens group presses BLM over RMR quarry compliance
A Glenwood Springs citizens group that is fighting expansion of the Rocky Mountain Resources limestone quarry north of town wants the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to enforce what it believes to be long-standing noncompliance issues before accepting any new plans for expanded activities on the site.
The Glenwood Springs Citizens Alliance on Thursday issued a letter to BLM officials asking the federal land agency to investigate and determine whether any violations to RMR’s existing operations plan have occurred and to suspend operations if they have.
In particular, the group, represented by the Lyons-based nonprofit public interest law firm Western Mining Action Project (WMAP), says it has compiled evidence that the quarry is mining material not covered under its current BLM permits, and that it has gone outside of its permitted mining boundaries.
Roger Flynn, director and managing attorney for WMAP, said the group has uncovered evidence that RMR, as well as its predecessors, have been mining and selling materials, including road base, fill, rock and boulders, which it says were not part of the mine’s 1989 amended operations plan.
“Our legal position, under the 1872 federal mining law, is that they don’t have that right, that they have to obtain a sales contract to do so, and that they should be paying fair market value to the BLM,” Flynn said.
“It’s really a question of fair market value to the taxpayers, because those materials can’t be sold without running through a mineral sales contract,” he said. Such a contract does not appear to exist, Flynn said.
In addition, the citizens group has offered evidence to the BLM that exploratory drilling has been going on illegally at the quarry site, and that there is conflicting information in the permit records regarding the allowed mining area.
BLM records seem to suggest the mine has an approved perimeter of 15.7 acres, but the currently disturbed area has expanded beyond 17 acres.
However, other land-use records suggest the mine may be allowed to operate on up to 34.4 acres, the letter points out. In any case, the actual allowed area should be clarified, and operations should cease if there is a violation, the group says.
“At a minimum, BLM should immediately suspend any operations that exceed the currently authorized 15.7 acres, as violating the plan of operation,” the letter to the BLM contends.
BLM area spokesman David Boyd said the agency is aware of the compliance issues, and said it’s a situation that RMR inherited when it bought the quarry in 2016 from CalX Minerals. In fact, the problems associated with what’s historically known as the Mid-Continent Quarry even predates that company, Boyd said.
The quarry was first operated by a subsidiary of Mid-Continent Resources, owners of the former Coal Basin coal mines near Redstone, to provide limestone for the coal mine operations before they shut down in the early 1990s.
“We let RMR know before they purchased the property that there were compliance issues, and that we wanted to see them resolved,” Boyd said.
Since RMR began floating plans for a major expansion of the quarry earlier this year, Boyd said the decision was made to deal with the issue in the context of the forthcoming amended operations plan.
RMR indicated in meeting with various community and neighborhood groups last spring that it is eyeing an expansion of the current strip mine operation from the current 20 or so acres to between 260 and 300 acres of the steep mountainside north of Glenwood Springs.
The limestone operation is situated along the popular Transfer Trail four-wheel-drive access to the Flat Tops, and immediately below the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park to the south.
If approved by the BLM following what’s expected to be a contentious federal environmental review process, the operation would be roughly 20 times the size of its existing undertaking. In addition to the larger acreage, the company also would expand the number of truckloads per day to possibly 350, from 20 currently, and also wants the ability to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Various permits from Garfield County, and even from the city of Glenwood Springs for use of city streets as haul routes and a possible railroad loadout facility, are also expected to be required.
RMR company officials had been fairly forthcoming with information about the plans earlier in the year, until opposition within the Glenwood Springs community started to mount. In April, RMR’s vice president of Colorado operations, Bobby Wagner, told the Post Independent that they were entering a “quiet period” while the new operations plan was being developed.
Regarding the existing compliance issues, the BLM’s Boyd said the agency began negotiations with RMR two years ago. The current mining operation has been approved by the state of Colorado, he said. The discrepancies have to do with the BLM permitting, Boyd said.
“The way we resolve this kind of issue is to ask them to submit a plan of operations modification, which is also what they will need for any expansion,” he said. “We are still waiting for that proposal.”
Flynn, representing the Glenwood Citizens Alliance, said the group is also still waiting to hear from the BLM regarding a federal Freedom of Information request sent back in June, asking for relevant documents to be released.
“We are still working on compiling those documents,” Boyd said.
Flynn added that the BLM should address any compliance issues now, and not just try to fix down the line.
“You just can’t say, ‘We’ll comply with the law later,’ you have to make sure they are operating properly now,” Flynn said.
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