G’wood citizens group sues BLM over quarry decisions | AspenTimes.com

G’wood citizens group sues BLM over quarry decisions

Thomas Phippen
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
The Mid-Continent limestone quarry, owned and operated by Rocky Mountain Industrials, north of Glenwood Springs, as seen from a flight with conservation group EcoFlight.

The Glenwood Springs Citizens Alliance is suing the federal government for failing to regulate the limestone quarry north of city limits.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court, the Citizens Alliance claims the Bureau of Land Management violated its rules by allowing Rocky Mountain Industrials, Inc. (RMI, formerly known as RMR), to continue mining and selling rock that is outside their permitted activities.

“When it comes to Rocky Mountain Industrials, BLM is ignoring the federal laws that govern mining on public lands,” said Jeff Peterson, executive director of the Glenwood Springs Citizens’ Alliance.

The Citizens Alliance is suing for a declaration that the BLM’s actions violate their own laws and regulations, and seeks an injunction that would stop the BLM from allowing further mining of “common variety” limestone, or rocks for construction uses, at the quarry site.

The issue of the lawsuit relates to the two mining laws that govern rock mining and quarrying permits.

Federal law distinguishes between “common variety” minerals and “locatable minerals,” and limestone could be either, depending on the calcium content.

Common variety limestone is used mainly for construction purposes, like roads, berms, concrete and so on.

Higher-quality chemical grade limestone has numerous industrial uses, but most commonly was used as fire-suppression dust in coal mines. The Mid-Continent limestone quarry provided dust to the now-defunct Mid-Continent coal mine near Redstone.

RMI inherited the quarry’s permit, which falls under locatable minerals law, but has apparently been selling rocks for construction purposes, as well.

Anyone who removes common-variety rock or stone from federal land is required to pay fair market value to the agency under federal law.

The BLM allowed RMI to set up an escrow account to collect potential payments for the common variety material while the quarry continues operating and seeks permission to expand.

The Citizens Alliance argues the decision violated the BLM’s own rules.

“BLM has bent its own longstanding rules in allowing this, favoring the profit-making needs of a single company over the broader public interest. BLM is violating the law, and it needs to be stopped,” Peterson said.

The lawsuit contains details of the Citizens Alliance’s public records requests to the BLM, including sales records starting from when RMI assumed quarry operations in October 2016 through June 2018.

A chart included in the lawsuit purports to show that the quarry sold far more limestone for construction uses than qualified uses of chemical grade limestone starting in 2017.

“Based on RMR Sales reports, it is also very possible that RMR’s mining claims covering the Quarry are no longer valid under the 1872 Mining Law, which would also require BLM to suspend operations,” the lawsuit states.

The Citizens Alliance alleges the BLM broke its own rules in allowing RMI to set up the escrow account dating back to November 2018, when RMI first submitted its expansion proposal.

The sales records indicate RMI was selling construction products long before that, according to the Citizens Alliance.

Unrelated to the lawsuit, the BLM’s decision to allow RMI to continue selling common variety limestone has caught the attention of Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo.

In a letter to BLM’s Colorado director Jamie Connell, Tipton asked for information on the BLM’s decision, referencing records obtained by the Citizens Alliance.

A spokesman for the BLM declined to comment on the pending litigation. RMI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.