Forest Service to review Avalanche Creek quarry plan |

Forest Service to review Avalanche Creek quarry plan

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

CARBONDALE – A new operating plan for the Mystic Eagle Quarry in Avalanche Creek, one that envisions year-round operations and a new stretch of road circumventing the quarry, is about to undergo an environmental analysis by the U.S. Forest Service.

The agency has accepted the proposed operating plan and is ramping up for an analysis that will include the opportunity for public input, said White River National Forest spokesman Pat Thrasher. The Forest Service is also working to arrange a site visit at the quarry, he said.

“It is a use of the national forest system lands,” Thrasher said. “The responsibility of the Forest Service is to look at what the company has proposed and how that might impact other resources.”

The quarry has long been in operation, but its current operating permit is due to expire in May, said Walt Brown, attorney for quarry owner Elbram Stone Co. LLC and a partner in the company. The quarry is currently approved to operate between May and November, he said.

Interest in the quarry’s alabaster and marble is picking up, according to Brown. “If you have to shut down every six months, you can’t make it go,” he said.

The road that leads past the quarry and ends at the Avalanche Creek Campground and the Avalanche Creek trailhead is closed to vehicles annually from Nov. 15 to May 1 to protect bighorn sheep. In addition, dogs aren’t permitted during those months, and people are restricted to the road. The quarry portal is a short distance beyond the closure gate.

For the past two summers, operations at the quarry have been mostly limited to cleaning up the site, according to Brown. The company would like to do some quarrying this year, but needs to renew its permit, he said.

The quarry also operates under a permit issued by Pitkin County. Year-round operation is a change that would require an amended county permit, said Lance Clarke, assistant community development director.

Former quarry owner Robert Congdon in 2004 received approval for a one-year trial period that included wintertime operations, but never made use of it, Clarke said.

The operating proposal submitted to the Forest Service calls for a trial period of winter operations. The plan outlines the potential for underground operations seven days a week with three shifts a day, with surface operations limited to two shifts a day, Monday through Friday.

Storage of material and blocks in a yard opposite the existing road from the quarry portal is envisioned, and the company would like to have someone staying at the site for security purposes, Brown said. Five approved camping spots for quarry personnel are also located across the road from the quarry entrance.

Rerouting a section of the road around the quarry site would occur when full production justifies it, according to the plan. Initially, a foot trail would be created to divert hikers around the operation.

According to the plan, the company will be in the development stage for the next four years. Initially, alabaster will be removed for the art market, the plan states, though Brown said there is broader interest in the products. The stone can be used for landscaping and home finishes, he said.

Eventually, a second opening to the quarry is proposed for safety purposes – it is required by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, according to the plan.

The quarry is located at the mouth of Avalanche Creek, south of Carbondale off Highway 133. Formerly called the White Banks Alabaster Mine, it was renamed by its new owners in recognition of a giant eagle that was partially carved out of the alabaster inside the quarry during Congdon’s ownership.

“I wish I could get it out and show it to people,” Brown said. “It’s really a cool piece. I would love for people to be able to see it.”

Extracting the stone encompassing the eagle would be logistically difficult and expensive, he said. Congdon had at one time hoped to take visitors inside the quarry to see it, but ran into regulatory hurdles, Brown said.

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