Toussaint column: Enlisting in the David v Goliath battle against quarry
Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes recently “declared war.” The city earmarked $1.25 million to legally bar Rocky Mountain Resources from expanding production in its limestone quarry above town by more than 8,000 percent annually.
Sign me up, Jonathan.
I grew up in Colorado. My fond memories of Glenwood Springs go back to being so small I needed adult help to scale the steps leading into the Hot Springs Pool. Glenwood was a venerable tourist town even in the 1950s.
I chose to retire in this valley because of our mountains, hot springs, outdoor recreation and friendly neighbors. I avoided going back to the Front Range because of the noise, traffic and pollution. I didn’t choose Leadville, Stringtown or Appalachia, either. People generally avoid vacationing or retiring amid oil pumps, strip mines and/or slag heaps.
Steve Beckley, who owns Iron Mountain Hot Springs, worries that quarry operations could pierce and drain Glenwood’s hot springs. He also wryly notes that he doesn’t know of “too many vibrant tourist towns trying to get into the mining industry.”
Exactly. I love seeing Amish tourists in town over the summer. I doubt that they’d choose to bicycle amid the dust and noise kicked up by 34-ton trucks making 50 trips an hour, 10 hours a day, 365 days a year.
The proposed excavation would be visible from Glenwood Springs High School to Glenwood Meadows. I know that it’s a “quarry” and not a “strip mine,” but to me, the diagram showing the shoulder amputation behind Hotel Colorado looks eerily close to what in Appalachia is called “mountain top removal.” What’s more, RMR’s pro-excavation arguments sound hauntingly familiar to something I heard in a recent PBS documentary.
“Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People” chronicled the descent of a pioneering mountain population into persistent poverty. The subsistence farmers who sold their mineral rights in the early 1900s did so largely without understanding that nearby excavation would render their homes and farms uninhabitable. Railroads and out-of-state mining companies promising high wages and economic development ultimately drove locals off their land and into company towns. There they followed a trajectory that’s familiar in parts of Colorado as well as Appalachia. Mountainfolk traded their modest-but-independent livelihoods for the powerlessness and privation that come from depending on the boom-and-bust of mineral extraction. Soon locals owed their souls to the company store.
RMR scoffs that local tourism jobs don’t pay enough. It promises “economic diversification.” It has criticized local leaders for activism, saying “a community should embrace opportunities to improve the lives of its constituents, not just those who can afford to influence local politics.” That would be laughable, were it not tragically ironic.
RMR has made Herculean efforts to move the fight out of local hands and exploit its Trumpian ties: The quarry’s major owner, Chad Brownstein, is the son of Norm Brownstein of the Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck lobbying firm. Current Interior Secretary David Bernhardt once worked there.
In May, RMR sued Garfield County in both Colorado state and U.S. District court, saying that because the quarry is on federal land, Garfield County has no authority to regulate it. (Not coincidentally, a month earlier, GarCo cited RMR for violating its existing permit in five different ways.)
RMR’s move to disenfranchise local authorities has me steaming. In October, I was astonished to see that the lawsuit against Garfield County had been filed by New Castle’s contract town attorney, David McConaughy — on behalf of his side hustle, RMR. After that became a point of contention in a town meeting, I was slightly mollified to learn that McConaughy had recused himself from the town’s quarry discussions.
Since New Castle has now voted to join the seven other towns opposing the quarry expansion, I’m wondering if that’s enough.
I’m appalled that an out-of-state mining company thinks it can set up shop on federal land and thumb its nose at local government. As Mayor Godes has said, “When a mine owner sues a county and says you don’t have jurisdiction over us, even though we are in your backyard, I hope that everybody in this state stands up and takes notice.”
Since Longmont passed a fracking ban in 2012, many Colorado cities have been struggling to stand up and protect citizens from mining operations. But historically, Colorado has been a mining state. Under common law, mine and quarry owners call the shots.
Longmont’s fracking ban was overturned by the Colorado Supreme Court. Then passage of Senate Bill 181 in 1981 redrew the battle lines a bit by granting city and county governments some authority to protect citizens’ health from oil and gas operations.
But SB 181 didn’t say a thing about limestone quarries, nor local quality of life or tourism-based livelihoods. To protect those will take a David v. Goliath battle, and all the slingshots we can muster.
Nicolette Toussaint lives in Carbondale. Her column appears monthly in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com.
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