In valley and beyond, RMR suits cast long shadow
RMR Industrials’ lawsuits against Garfield County are worrying local towns.
Elected officials and residents of Glenwood Springs and Carbondale are concerned the quarry owner’s lawsuits, which claim the county lacks authority to enforce special use permits on public lands, undermine local control over mineral extraction.
“The lawsuit that RMR is undertaking tries to undermine all counties’ abilities to regulate the impacts of mining on federal land adjacent to local communities,” said Debra Figueroa, Glenwood Springs city manager, at a Carbondale town meeting Tuesday.
Figueroa, along with Glenwood Mayor Pro Tem Shelley Kaup and City Councilor Paula Stepp, encouraged the Carbondale board of trustees to pass a resolution opposing the quarry expansion under review by the Bureau of Land Management, and supporting Garfield County in the lawsuits.
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Carbondale trustees unanimously passed a resolution to oppose the quarry expansion and supporting Garfield County in the lawsuit.
“While it’s clearly a local issue for Glenwood, it has much broader implications,” Carbondale Mayor Dan Richardson said.
State of the lawsuits
In dueling federal and state lawsuits over the same issue, lawyers for the quarry and the county are at odds over the best court to litigate the dispute — and accusing each other of political motivations along the way.
RMR wants the case to proceed in federal court, but Garfield County wants to litigate before local judges. For now, it’s a waiting game to see which case proceeds.
After a tense public meeting April 22 attended by hundreds of community members, Garfield County determined RMR was indeed in violation of the county’s special use permit to operate a quarry on Bureau of Land Management property north of Glenwood Springs.
Complicating the legal issues, the complaint about RMR’s noncompliance was filed by the Garfield County Citizen’s Alliance, which formed to oppose RMR’s proposal to expand operations.
Unconnected to the lawsuits, the BLM is considering a proposed expansion of the quarry. Glenwood Springs City Council and the town of Carbondale have publicly opposed the quarry expansion.
For Jeff Peterson, who represents Glenwood Springs Citizens Alliance, the lawsuits are an example of RMR trying to skirt local regulations.
“We have a politically connected company that’s trying to strip regulations away from local jurisdictions so that they can do whatever they want without the local jurisdiction regulating them and protecting the health and safety of the people in the area,” Peterson said.
According to RMR, the county acted “in an arbitrary and capricious manner” in issuing the violation notice. RMR claims the commissioners didn’t have the evidence to issue the notice, and doesn’t have the authority to enforce the permit on federal land within the county.
The county gave RMR until June 1 to come into compliance. Shortly before the deadline to come under compliance, RMR filed two lawsuits, one in Colorado court on May 17, and another in the Colorado district of federal court May 21.
Since then, the lawyers have been arguing over which court should hear the case.
There’s also a financial aspect to RMR’s desire to have the case heard in federal court.
In a Sept. 18 filing in the state case, RMR said they are seeking damages, fees and costs incurred from the county’s actions, and the legal fight.
“The federal court can enjoin defendant from enforcing the (notice of violation) as preempted by federal law, and, unlike this court in this proceeding, the federal district court can provide RMR with damages, fees, and costs,” RMR’s filing said.
Garfield County has argued in filings that the state court is the appropriate place to litigate the case, partly because RMR filed that case first, and because there are appropriate remedies under the state lawsuit.
The state case is before Ninth District Judge Anne Norrdin, who must decide whether to proceed, or stay the case.
The federal case is awaiting a ruling from Magistrate Judge Gordon Gallagher in Grand Junction, who is weighing Garfield County’s motion to dismiss.
It’s unclear when Gallagher will make a ruling, but both parties agree the motion is “ripe” for a decision. And, depending on which party wins, the entire state of Colorado could face a sea change in policy.
“(The lawsuits) could have an impact throughout all of rural Colorado because if for any reason (RMR) wins, they’re essentially saying to counties, ‘Hands off, we can do whatever we want on federal land.’ That will have a huge impact on all of us,” Figueroa said.
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