Forest Service approves new operations plan for Redstone-area mine
The U.S. Forest Service notified the public Thursday that it issued a “modified plan of operations” for the controversial White Banks Mine in the Crystal Valley.
Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Karen Schroyer approved the operating plan Jan. 30. The significance of the plan is it “provides up to a four-year development phase for marble exploration and development plus full-scale exploration, development and production of alabaster,” the Forest Service said in a statement. The deadline for showing that the mine can produce salable-grade marble was extended from September 2018 to May 2019.
The decision clears the way for the last producing mine in Pitkin County to resume operations.
“It is uncertain if any work will take place this summer,” the Forest Service said in its statement.
Former mine owner and operator Robert Congdon fought with the Forest Service and Pitkin County for years over operating conditions he felt were too onerous. Elbram Stone LLC leased the mine from Mystic Eagle LLC, according to the Forest Service. Elbram submitted a plan to the Forest Service in September 2011 to continue mining alabaster from the site along Avalanche Creek, about 9 miles south of Carbondale and 5 miles north of Redstone. A former district ranger made a ruling that restricted mining in the winter months and required the operator to pay for a study to determine if mining disrupted bighorn sheep in the area.
Elbram Stone made an administrative appeal and the appeal officer ruled that the decision had to be reconsidered. A different district ranger reversed the decision and ruled that Elbram Stone would be given an opportunity to produce marble over four years in an effort to prove to the Forest Service that viable amounts of high-quality, marketable product could be produced. If a Forest Service examiner determines the product is marketable, Elbram could earn approval for long-term, year-round production.
The new decision eliminated requiring Elbram Stone to fund the bighorn sheep study.
The modified plan of operations spells out details of the earlier notice. Elbram must produce enough marble by May 2019 for an assessment on the quality and marketability by the Forest Service. If the product is good, Elbram Stone could attain approvals to produce marble, alabaster and gypsum through May 2035, according to the modified plan of operations.
A one-year trial period for winter surface operations from Dec. 1 to April 30 was retained in the conditions of approval. Underground operations can go year-round.
If the marble doesn’t qualify as production-grade mineral, only alabaster and gypsum can be mined.
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