In Brief: Quarry remains restricted after slide; when to drive this weekend; bear conflicts up across West Slope in ’22 |

In Brief: Quarry remains restricted after slide; when to drive this weekend; bear conflicts up across West Slope in ’22

Nope, quarry restrictions will stay, Appeals Court rules

Following a major rockslide at a limestone quarry mining operation north of Glenwood Springs in late January, operator Rocky Mountain Industrials tried overturning winter restrictions.

On Thursday, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued a 33-page ruling that affirms Garfield County’s authority to continue to impose seasonal restrictions on operations at RMI’s Mid-Continent limestone quarry.

The Glenwood Springs Citizens’ Alliance — a grassroots group organized in opposition to RMI’s proposed quarry expansion — released a statement on Thursday, saying Garfield could also legally seek reimbursement from RMI for costs in the case.

“The Court of Appeals clearly saw through RMI’s false claims and instead upheld Garfield County’s authority to enforce its environmental regulations on a mining operation on federal land,” Springs Citizens’ Alliance President Jeff Peterson said in the release.

“Garfield County’s prohibition against winter-mining operations and its enforcement of other permit violations is clearly supported by case law and by common sense,” he added. “We applaud the Garfield County Commissioners for standing up to RMI, and we are pleased to see the county’s authority affirmed by the Court of Appeals.”

The appellate court ruling comes one month after a 300-foot-wide slope collapse occurred at the quarry, prompting the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration to issue an order shutting down quarry operations until a safety plan is approved, the release states.

A three-judge Court of Appeals panel heard oral arguments in the case on Jan. 24 and issued its ruling just three weeks later. RMI was represented in the case by Chris Bryan with the law firm Garfield & Hecht. Garfield County was represented by special counsel at Arnold & Porter.

Traffic spikes over Presidents’ Day Weekend

Presidents’ Day often draws large crowds in the High Country as it consistently ranks within the top three busiest weekends of the winter season, behind New Year’s Eve and Martin Luther King weekends, according to historical data provided by the Colorado Department of Transportation. 

Travelers heading west from the Front Range could expect around 23% more traffic Friday, according to a comparison of 2022 CDOT data pulled a week before and the week of Presidents’ Day. Data for this story was pulled from a traffic counter at the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels.

For those traveling westbound, Friday typically sees the most traffic, followed by Saturday, Sunday, and then Monday. In 2022, 31,816 cars were counted Friday, 25,420 were counted Saturday, 22,577 were counted Sunday, and 19,342 were counted Monday, according to westbound data at the tunnel. 

As for eastbound traffic, 2022 data shows that Sunday had the heaviest traffic, followed by Monday, Saturday, and Friday. In 2022, 26,433 people drove Sunday, 25,907 drove Monday, 22,537 drove Saturday, and 20,941 drove Friday, according to eastbound data. 

In general, the best time to travel on I-70 is before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m., but a review of traffic counts from last year’s holiday show that this window of high traffic lengthens significantly on Friday for westbound traffic. 

Traffic counts more than doubled between 6-7 a.m. on the Friday before the holiday last year, rising from 929 cars per hour to more than 2,000. The rate of travel remained around or above 2,000 until 5 p.m. and didn’t drop below 1,000 until 9 p.m.

For comparison, westbound travel counts dropped below 1,000 vehicles per hour at 6 p.m. on the Friday before Christmas this year and never exceeded 2,000. 

Bear sightings, conflicts rose across West Slope

Reports of bear sightings and conflicts with humans were up 16% in Colorado last year to nearly 4,300, but they were down slightly when compared to 2019 and 2020, according to an annual report issued Wednesday by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

On the Front Range east of the Continental Divide, reports decreased in 2022, but they grew in the northwest region of the state due to drought and a shortage of natural food sources there.

Ample moisture east of the Continental Divide created favorable conditions for the growth of bears’ natural food sources, including wild berries and nuts, reducing the need for bears to seek food in urban areas. Compared to the previous two years, Colorado’s southeast region saw an 18% decrease in bear conflicts while conflicts in the northeast region decreased 6%.

West of the divide, a late freeze led to “food failure,” the CPW report says, resulting in nearly “non-existent” sources of berries and acorns. The northwest region, which experienced extreme drought, saw a 9% increase in conflicts while the southwest region saw a 3% decrease.

CPW urges the public to learn how to bear-proof their homes.