Quarry considerations in Garfield County 10-year plan
Quarry on the mind
A quarry-sized elephant in the room loomed during a discussion of Garfield County’s 2030 comprehensive plan Wednesday night.
Although RMR Industrial’s limestone quarry was not directly mentioned, several suggested additions to the comprehensive plan would apply to the proposed expansion.
In a draft of the 2030 comprehensive plan, county staff recommend stronger protections for wildlife habitats and historic roads like the Transfer Trail. The draft also discourages industrial development and mineral extraction near tourist communities and incompatible neighborhoods.
Planning commission chairman Bob Fullerton said in an interview after the meeting that the suggested additions were not drafted to intentionally target the quarry.
“I don’t think it was specifically targeted to (the quarry expansion), but it could be interpreted that way at this point in history,” Fullerton said.
Fullerton said perhaps some of the language was inspired by public reaction to the proposed quarry expansion but was not exclusively connected to it.
“We’ve had rock quarries, we’ve had oil and gas applications that are contentious with the public,” Fullerton said.
The comprehensive plan is not regulatory, but acts as a guide for the planning commission’s consideration of proposed projects and can inform the commissioners in creating land-use codes.
The comprehensive plan also applies across the board, and the county considers a number of controversial projects, including oil and gas development.
The county depends on oil and gas development for much of its property tax revenue, and some suggested additions to the comprehensive plan would apply to all mineral extraction – mining and gas included.
“We’re not saying we have a problem with mineral extraction, but what we’re saying is it needs to be properly located. It shouldn’t be located in a place where it’s going to negatively impact the surrounding the community,” community development director Sheryl Bower said.
Under existing policy for mineral extraction projects, county staff suggested adding a new strategy: “Direct large-scale hard rock mining operations away from incompatible uses such as municipalities, tourist facilities, neighborhoods and areas where community character will be negatively impacted.”
RMR is seeking to expand the Mid-Continent quarry from about 20 acres to 447 acres on a hillside north of Glenwood Springs. It is in the sightline for much of the city, and easily seen from tourist attractions.
RMR’s proposed expansion is in the early stages of the Bureau of Land Management’s environmental impact review process. The quarry would need permits from the state of Colorado and Garfield County to begin the expansion.
The county suggested including requiring “detailed impact analyses” for developments within or near wildlife migration routes.
“That would support us if we got a report that was weak on migration corridors or other critical issues. We could point to the comprehensive plan and say, ‘you guys need to beef this up,’” Hartmann said.
The comp plan already has policy goals to develop tourism, but the draft plan includes new strategies to identify historic trails “like the Transfer Trail” and “preserve the visual resources and natural features” of those trails.
The Transfer Trail goes north from Glenwood Springs past the RMR quarry, and crisscrosses the hillside above the existing operation before heading into the White River National Forest and Flat Tops.
Several planning commission members questioned the definition of historic trails, and staff said they would work on ways to clarify what counts as a historic trail.
Another new policy aimed at protecting tourism areas included the strategy: “Where the impacts of industrial development (including mineral extraction) cannot be adequately mitigated to prevent negative impacts on tourism, quality of life resources and community character this development shall be found to be inconsistent with this Comprehensive Plan.”
Rudd noted that if a private property owner has a right to develop mineral deposits, it could be seen as inconsistent within the comprehensive plan since they wouldn’t have any way to stop.
“How does that work if mineral extraction is a use by right? Would we have a conflict in our own plan?” Rudd asked.
“If people get to bypass it, why do we have it in the first place?”
“A lot of this is written for specific situations where we know we are going to have some (say),” Bower said.
The comprehensive plan for 2030 is still a work in progress. The planning commission is scheduled to meet several more times this year to discuss aspects of the plan, and will hold public meetings on the plan updates in early 2020.
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