Quarry review timeline pushed to 2021, and county continues court battle
The Bureau of Land Management has pushed back the potential start date for beginning the formal environmental review of the Mid-Continent limestone quarry expansion proposal to 2021.
“We are looking at sometime in 2021 to begin the (environmental impact statement),” said BLM Spokesman David Boyd on Friday.
The proposed expansion of the Mid-Continent quarry owned by Rocky Mountain Industrials, Inc., has drawn criticism from many residents of Glenwood Springs in the past two years, and the process is far from over.
RMI seeks to expand the limestone quarry from about 23 acres to 321 acres and remove millions of tons of rock per year.
Currently, the BLM is conducting an environmental assessment of five wells RMI needs to drill to conduct a hydrological study. That study must be underway before the review of the larger quarry expansion proposal can begin.
Glenwood Springs and Garfield County are both working with the BLM as cooperating agencies in reviewing the water monitoring wells.
“We have been working with them as we develop potential alternatives for the (environmental assessment),” Boyd said.
“We expect to release that EA for public comment sometime in May. Timing on a final decision will depend on what we hear during the comment period,” he said.
One major concern is that the hot springs which made Glenwood Springs famous and supports several major resort businesses could be harmed by drilling deep wells, let alone mining hundreds of acres.
A hydrologist contracted by the county wrote in an April 10 letter to the BLM that the groundwater that feeds the hot springs could be affected by improper drilling.
“The Vapor Caves could realistically cease to exist if the trickle of water that feeds them is intercepted by overlying drilling or mining activities. Similarly, the Yampa Hot Spring, is extremely vulnerable to changes in flow and temperature,” wrote water engineer Dennis McGrane.
Before proceeding with any kind of drilling, McGrane recommended evaluating several unknown factors, like whether there is groundwater flowing within the limestone at the quarry site.
In addition to the hydrology study, the BLM must also determine what mining law the limestone quarry falls under, which could be decided this summer, Boyd said.
RMI is ready to contract an ethnographic study of the area, and there is are cave surveys that must be conducted before the environmental impact statement begins.
In the meantime, the county is fighting a legal battle with RMI over alleged violations of the county’s permit.
In a recent filing in the 9th District Court, the quarry asked the judge’s permission to amend their complaint after the county issued a second notice of violation, a year after the first.
The county “Unlawfully issued the two Notices of Violation,” according to the April 20 filing, depriving RMI of their property rights.
That same filing also asks permission to change the name of the plaintiff.
The lawsuit was filed under the name RMR Industrials, Inc., a name that the company no longer uses.
In January, the board of directors at RMR decided to change the name of the company to Rocky Mountain Industrials, Inc.
In a notice filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company said the name change “ better reflects the nature of our current and anticipated operations.”
The company still operates as RMR Aggregates, Inc., considered a subsidiary to RMI.
In an April 20 motion, attorneys requested to drop the name “RMR Industrials” from the lawsuit, and substitute the name of subsidiary “RMR Aggregates,” which is the name on the county and state permits.
County strengthens rules for new mining projects
The Garfield County Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday voted unanimously to grant county commissioners greater authority to regulate mineral extraction and gravel projects.
The board of county commissioners will vote on the so-called 1041 powers in May.
If the BLM approves the quarry expansion, RMI would have to seek a permit from Garfield County, which would use the new authority to evaluate the proposal
Opponents of the quarry expansion say the 1041 powers will help set expectations for mining interests.
“These proposed standards will give our county government definitive authority in setting clear expectations for mining operations across Garfield County,” said Jeff Peterson, executive director of the Glenwood Springs Citizens’ Alliance.
The purpose is to give express authority for local governments to regulate identified areas or activities of state interest that might have potentially far-reaching impacts on the health and welfare of local communities.
Each local government chooses from a menu of activities that they want to regulate under the 1041 provisions, and Garfield County already uses the process to review projects like airports, transit projects, municipal water and sewers.
“The proposed standards spell out what’s expected related to a wide variety of impacts that can result from mining, whether it’s noise, dust, truck traffic, streamflows, wildlife, natural habitat, weeds or wildfire,” Peterson said.
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