The Bureau of Land Management will conduct an environmental review of test bores proposed by the owner of limestone quarry seeking to exponentially expand the operation above Glenwood Springs.
Rocky Mountain Resources had asked the BLM to exempt from environmental review the drilling of five test wells it needs to assess the viability of expanding the Mid Continent Limestone Quarry to 447 acres from 16 acres. Communities along the Colorado River have galvanized in a fight against the company’s plan to grow the mine perched above downtown Glenwood Springs.
David Boyd, with the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office in Silt, said his office received 250 comments on RMR’s proposal to drill five test wells around its mine. Those wells, which the BLM requires to establish a baseline for the pending Environmental Impact Statement review of the company’s expansion plan, have drawn scrutiny from locals and politicians concerned about the mine expansion plan. The wells would give the BLM a better idea of the hydrology of the region around the quarry as it moves forward into a more intensive environmental review.
Those comments included letters from leaders in Garfield County, Glenwood Springs, Aspen and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, all expressing concern that the test drilling could disrupt geothermal flows that support Glenwood Springs hot springs attractions that anchor the riverside city’s tourism economy.
“Any such damage could prove beyond devastating for this community,” Tipton wrote Dec. 5 in a letter to Jamie Connell, the BLM’s Colorado director, urging the agency to “operate under an abundance of caution in the area” and pursue the Environmental Assessment of the test wells and not deliver RMR a categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act rules.
After reviewing the comment, Boyd said the agency will be using an Environmental Assessment to review the test wells. “Doing an EA will allow us to do a more detailed analysis of the potential impacts of drilling the wells.”
The BLM is requiring the mine owner to examine the hydrology so the agency can better understand the impacts of the proposed expansion to the water resources in the region. The company will be paying for the study.
RMR has garnered vehement opposition to the expansion from people who fear the mine’s owner may use political connections to greenlight the expansion. RMR is owned by Chad Brownstein, son of Norm Brownstein, whose influential Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck law firm once employed Secretary of the Interior David Bernhard as a lobbyist. Bernhard is in charge of the BLM.
Glenwood Springs has directed more than $1.2 million toward a public campaign to stop the mine expansion. The city has collected resolutions opposing the mine expansion from Pitkin County commissioners as well as trustees and councils from Rifle, Silt, New Castle, Carbondale, Basalt, Aspen and Snowmass Village. Garfield County, of which Glenwood Springs is the seat, last month placed a six-month moratorium on new and amended mining and gravel permits to give itself time to adjust its land-use code.