The Bureau of Land Management, which owns the 41 mining claims in Glenwood Springs that Rocky Mountain Resources leases, declared on Monday that the company’s most recent proposal to expand the Mid-Continent Quarry is complete.
For RMR, the third time really was the charm — the company, which acquires and develops natural resources assets, submitted two previous iterations of the proposal that the BLM deemed incomplete.
That’s not to say the project, which would expand the existing 15.7-acre permitted pit area to 447 acres, has a green light — far from it. The proposal still faces a technical review and environmental impact statement as part of the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, and public comment periods and hearings are still months away.
That said, the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association didn’t wait for RMR to schedule public meetings on the matter. Days after BLM declared the proposal complete, the chamber sent a link to a survey in an emailed newsletter to members.
Chamber President Angie Anderson can’t yet comment about the survey, as the results of it won’t be finalized until at least next week.
It’s brief, with multiple-choice questions that ask about participants’ familiarity with the proposal. But it also provides an open-ended opportunity to voice opinions on the proposed limestone quarry expansion.
Glenwood Springs local Jeff Peterson doesn’t need a survey to let the powers that be know his feelings on the matter. He’s the executive director of the Glenwood Springs Citizens Alliance, a collective that has successfully enlisted more than 1,100 petition signers opposing RMR’s plans.
He’s not happy with the proposal that the BLM just determined was complete.
“It meets the minimum requirements to be deemed complete, but it still lacks a ton of information,” he said. “It still doesn’t say a lot of what’s needed to be analyzed.”
In addition to the environmental impacts, there are cultural impacts worth noting — and Peterson emphasized that the logistics of the proposed operation would mean serious impacts on the entire Roaring Fork Valley, and Glenwood Springs in particular.
“They would mine from the top of the mining claim, which is essentially the ridge, all the way down to the existing pit over the next 20 years and are proposing to take 5 million tons per year out with 12 hours of mining and extraction per day,” he said. “That 5 million tons, they need to get 38,000 pounds per minute on average, 365 days a year. So we’re talking massive quantities of material.”
Currently, RMR is supposed to recognize a seasonal closure from Dec. 15 to April 15. The proposal seeks a change to year-round operations, with trucking from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and blasting from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“It’s all aggregate and road-base material that they want to ship off to Denver on a train, so there would be a massive expansion necessary of the railyard in Glenwood,” Peterson continued. “A train car would be loaded every five minutes and 15 seconds, so we’re talking the need for most likely a locomotive idling in downtown Glenwood.”
In January last year, RMR purchased 620 acres of land east of the Colorado Air and Space Port and Denver to develop a rail freight yard. RMR already owns a rail yard about 2.6 miles from the Mid-Continent Quarry in Glenwood Springs.
“This is directly across from Iron Mountain Hot Springs … the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado River,” Peterson said. “This is a valleywide issue that has potential issues on the tourism economy and the environment that we all enjoy.”
While RMR still faces a long road ahead in terms of seeing the expansion become reality, Peterson worries that it is a shorter journey than it would have been in the past — and those reasons are mostly political.
The White House Council on Environmental Quality conducted a study of more than 1,100 environmental impact statements from 2010 to 2017 and found that the average completion time was 4.5 years. Per a Trump administration directive, EPIs must now be completed within one year.
“That’s really not possible because some of the studies that are mandated by the environmental impact actually take a year to complete,” Peterson said. “You have all these scoping periods and ... comment periods, so you can’t physically get it done in a year. That’s the challenge that the BLM is facing.”
Then there are the political ties RMR has with the administration, which worries Peterson and others who oppose the quarry expansion. Chad Brownstein serves as RMR’s chief executive officer and is the son of Norm Brownstein, founding partner of Denver-based Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.
That’s relevant because current Secretary of the Interior David Berhardt also includes the lobbying firm on his resume as a lobbyist.
“There are a lot of inside tracks that are being pushed and used that are very problematic,” Peterson said. “Mainly, the Secretary of the Interior is a past partner that’s representing this mining company. He had an ethics agreement that he was not supposed to discuss any movement toward past clients’ projects — that expired a week ago. So the CEO’s dad’s firm is representing them, a past partner is now the Secretary of the Interior whose ethics agreement expired Aug. 3 because it’s been two years.”
Still, the fact that the BLM decided to pursue a full environmental impact statement instead of a less intense environmental assessment is promising from Peterson’s perspective.
“It’s going to be a long fight, but one that our valley really needs to come together on,” he said.