American Gypsum nets county approval for 99-acre expansion

Company officials say new area will provide 25 years of materials reserve for wallboard manufacturing

The open gypsum mine, located north of the material’s namesake community in western Eagle County will grow to 930 acres after Tuesday’s expansion approval by the Eagle County Board of Commissioners.
Daily file photo

The American Gypsum wallboard plant has secured approval from Eagle County for a 99.2-acre expansion of its 830-acre mine — representing a 25-year materials reserve for the Gypsum-based company.

On Tuesday, the Eagle County Board of Commissioners approved American Gypsum’s special use permit for the expansion during a hearing that was notable for what it lacked. Namely, there was no public comment — in written form or in person — offered regarding the company’s nearly 100-acre expansion plan.

American Gypsum both excavates gypsum — from a large open mine located approximately 2 miles north of the community named for the material — and produces wallboard, the end product for the extracted material. American Gypsum is the only wallboard manufacturing operation located in the state of Colorado, noted plant manager Chuck Zaruba.

“As the state continues to grow, we are an essential product for that to occur,” Zaruba said. He added the operation is also an essential part of the local economy, providing more than 100 year-round jobs.

“What we have heard from the people, in general, is they realize how important we are to the local economy,” Zaruba said.

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According to company representatives, the mine and its associated wallboard plant produce about 600 million square feet of drywall annually. Zaruba said most of that product goes to construction projects in Colorado, and approximately 95% of the company’s shipping is done by tractor-trailer. As for the expansion impact, Zaruba said local residents can simply expect more of what they have become accustomed to since the plant opened in 1992.

“We are not changing anything, we are just extending our mining efforts,” Zaruba said.

Time and space

American Gypsum’s new expansion involves both time and space. As noted in the application, the additional mining — conducted on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property — will prolong the life of the operation for more than two decades. In addition to the 99.2-acre expansion, the new county permit will allow disturbance of up to 50 acres at a time, an increase of 25 acres from the previous permitted stipulation.

Last year American Gypsum obtained approval from the BLM for the expansion and, as Zaruba noted, the company pays fees to the federal government for its mining operations. Additionally, the operation is subject to regulation from the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety. The county’s special use permit is the final regulatory effort the company faced for its expansion approval.

T.J. Dlubac, a planner contracted by Eagle County, prepared the staff review for the American Gypsum project. The staff recommendation found the expansion request substantially complied with county master plans, which stipulated only four conditions for the approval. Those conditions require all appropriate state and federal standards for air and water quality are met, limit the amount of land disruption for mining and excavation at any one time to 50 acres and mandate that reclamation efforts follow the details of the BLM’s project approval. The fourth condition addresses what Dlubac called the largest impact from the mining and manufacturing operation — traffic along Trail Gulch Road from the mine to the plant.

American Gypsum stated that its daily traffic impact — 63 haul trucks and 20 water trucks — will not increase with the expansion. As a condition of its county permit, the company is required to maintain the portion of Trail Gulch Road that runs from the mine to the plant. Additionally, the company must post a sign at the mine entrance that advertises a contact phone number for dust complaints and keep a record of those documented concerns.

Diversifying the local economy

During their discussion regarding the permit application, the county commissioners noted how unusual it is that such a large expansion would generate zero community comment.

“I am really happy to see that, based on the lack of opposition or comments of concerns, that people are generally supportive of this application,” Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney said.

“It’s one of our strategic goals to diversify our economy. It is really difficult to do in an economy based on tourism,” Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry said. “We are glad you are here. We are glad there are 112 year-round jobs in the western part of the county.”

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