Quarry project environmental review? It’s going to take a while
RMR Industrial’s quarry expansion proposal has been called an existential issue. Glenwood Springs Mayor Jon Godes said “we are at war” when announcing a PR campaign to oppose the quarry.
But if history is a guide, the process to a decision about whether to approve or deny RMR’s expansion proposal could take years.
The timeline of the environmental review of the project, which would expand the limestone quarry from about 23 acres to 321 acres and remove millions of tons of rock per year, is anything but certain.
“The (Bureau of Land Management)’s current estimate for starting the formal (environmental impact statement) is summer 2020, although that could change to be earlier or later depending on the status of the studies and as BLM gathers more information,” according to a BLM fact sheet on the quarry proposal.
The agency has a number of baseline studies to complete before the environmental review process can begin in earnest, so the schedule is up in the air, according to BLM spokesman David Boyd.
“We just don’t know. It’s not like we have a schedule and I’m not saying what it is, we just have to wait and see where all the parts are,” Boyd said.
One part of the baseline studies is a hydrological analysis.
The study required several test wells and monitoring of the groundwater for a year. RMR planned to begin drilling the monitoring wells in the fall.
Due to the intense interest in all things related to the quarry, however, the BLM asked for public comments on issuing a categorical exclusion to approve the test wells.
After receiving 250 comments, and a last-minute letter from Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) urging more environmental review, the BLM decided to conduct an environmental assessment with “a detailed analysis of potential impacts of drilling the wells.”
That analysis has begun, Boyd said, and should be complete in the next few months.
Because of the scoping period in late 2019, the assessment will not need additional public comment, Boyd said.
The hydrological study needs a years worth of data from all four seasons, but there’s a chance that the BLM could begin public comment, scoping and other parts of the environmental impact statement before all the hydrological data is in, Boyd said.
Still, the process “certainly (won’t start) before summer, and likely at this point later than that,” Boyd said.
In addition to the hydrologic study, the BLM is conducting a cave and karst study to research underground features on the proposed quarry site, an ethnographic study and an anthropologic and cultural study.
Many of those studies have begun, Boyd said.
Even if the environmental impact statement process begins this year, it could be years before a decision is reached.
The average amount of time it takes for the BLM to complete an environmental impact statement is nearly four and a half years, according to a 2017 analysis of the process by the White House.
The process will officially begin when the BLM posts notice of intent to complete an environmental impact statement.
Then there will be periods of scoping and public comment, which will likely include public meetings.
When the BLM completes a draft of the statement, it will be made available for additional public comment. The average time from formal notice to draft EIS is nearly 2 and a half years at the BLM. From the draft to a final statement is another year and a half, on average, and then it usually takes another six months before the final decision is announced.
Many environmental reviews take less time; a few take a decade or more.
No matter what, the Citizens Alliance, a group that formed in opposition to the quarry project, plans to continue monitoring the status of the review.
“We’re going to continue to engage and educate the public with what’s happening, and monitoring the progress of the process,” said Jeff Peterson of the Glenwood Springs Citizens Alliance. “We’ll be hosting events throughout the next year to continue that engagement with the community,” he said.
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