Garfield commissioners give quarry operators deadline to straighten up
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
The Garfield County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously Monday night to give Rocky Mountain Resources until June 1 to come into compliance with its county special use permit, or face further legal action.
After a nearly three-hour public hearing, the time clock was set for the controversial quarry operation — currently proposed for a major expansion — to meet its existing obligations.
Nearly 200 people attended the meeting, held at Glenwood Springs Middle School to accommodate the crowd. County planning staff members presented their findings that RMR was in violation of five out of seven alleged violations.
The allegations were made in November after a complaint from the Glenwood Springs Citizens’ Alliance, a group best known for their opposition to RMR’s proposal with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to expand operations.
Commissioners agreed with staff that RMR stands in violation of the county’s special use permit in five areas out of the seven allegations. Those include:
• RMR confirmed it was selling limestone for road base, boulders and other construction materials, when their permit specifically authorizes extraction of only chemical-grade limestone dust.
• The quarry operated between Dec. 15 and April 15 the past two years, despite the special use permit prohibition on extraction during those months.
• RMR is operating on 20.8 acres of BLM land, when the county permit authorizes only 16.3 acres.
• RMR failed to keep noise on Transfer Trail low, and did not implement communication with Glenwood Caverns traffic as stipulated in the permit’s maintenance agreement.
• RMR conducted exploratory drilling, with a BLM permit, which was not part of the county’s special use permit.
“It’s a slower process than we’d like, but we’ll get there,” Jeff Peterson, an active member of Citizens’ Alliance, said after the commissioner’s decision.
The public hearing came just days after the BLM returned RMR’s application to expand quarry operations from about 21 acres to 320 acres, operate seven days a week year-round with the aim of removing 5 million tons of rock each year.
Garfield County authorized the special use permit for the Mid-Continent Quarry in 2009, when it was owned by CalX Minerals. RMR purchased the quarry, and inherited all the accompanying permits, in 2016.
Commission Chairman John Martin made sure to clarify that the hearing was only on the current permit, and sometimes reminded speakers not to address a future expansion proposal.
When Martin said Kevin Hillmer was “straying a bit” in commenting that RMR’s expenditures exceeded revenues, Hillmer summed up: “They should not be trusted.”
Every person who delivered public comment spoke in opposition to RMR, and urged the commissioners to take action against the quarry operator. The speakers included former Glenwood Springs Mayor Michael Gamba, current Mayor Jonathan Godes, Mayor Pro-tem Shelley Kaup and Councilor Rick Voorhees.
“We’re a nation of rules and laws. We’re a community of rules and laws. When those rules and laws are violated, that breaks the social compact,” Godes said.
Glenwood Springs City Attorney Karl Hanlon did bring up the BLM to point out that he believes RMR is trying to use the modification application, which is still in draft form, to address noncompliance with federal permits.
Many speakers urged the commissioners to immediately shut down the quarry or revoke the special use permit, arguing that RMR has already had more than two years to comply and apparently does not respect local rules.
The county does not have the authority to force RMR to stop operations overnight. Commissioner Mike Samson said that is not the right way to go.
“There are people employed there that need a job, and are depending on that paycheck. If you work for this company right now, would you want to be told tomorrow that you don’t have a job?” Samson said.
But he also scolded RMR for not being more forthcoming about a number of issues.
“I feel that RMR has not honored the conditions” of the special use permit, Samson said, adding that some of the conditions may be a little vague.
“I don’t think you’ve been as forthcoming as you should have been in time and in fact,” he said.
Quarry rep responds
Representatives of RMR said they had been transparent with regulatory bodies, including the county, the BLM and the Colorado Department of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.
RMR’s attorney, Mike Stratton of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Shreck, said the company had been transparent and forthcoming as possible, and was more than willing to work with city and county staff.
“Every one of these issues that we’re dealing with tonight are issues that we have brought to people’s attention,” Stratton told the commissioners. “We will continue to respond to county officials, city officials and state officials, but there is no lack of transparency, gentlemen, and no effort on our part to be hiding the ball on any regard.”
The county’s written order of noncompliance “doesn’t change our plan,” RMR President Greg Dangler said after the hearing.
“We’re going to continue to work with the county and maintain their standards,” he said.
Tourism and outdoor recreation employ a lot of people, but those workers’ wages are below county and regional averages.