Melee mars mine meeting |

Melee mars mine meeting

Eben Harrell

A routine meeting of the Pitkin County commissioners erupted into near chaos yesterday when an applicant before the board shouted profanities at a commissioner.

The exchange caused a dispute among the commissioners and prompted one commissioner to call the melee “a complete breakdown of the democratic process.”

The argument broke out during a routine review of the White Banks Alabaster Mine and its operations in the Crystal River Valley. Earlier this year, the county granted the mine a winter operating permit. Nearby residents have raised a stink about the mine, claiming it disturbs wintering habitat for bighorn sheep.

Mine owner Robert Congdon was asked in yesterday’s review session to address neighbors’ concerns. Dialogue proceeded smoothly until Commissioner Mick Ireland asked Congdon whether his dog was on the property in the winter, which would be a violation of U.S. Forest Service rules. Congdon said he already denied that accusation earlier in the proceedings.

Congdon then shouted at Ireland, “Don’t give me the fifth degree. Don’t you f—ing look at me like that.”

Commissioner Dorothea Farris, the board president, immediately requested a five-minute break. Farris and two other commissioners later continued the mine review while Ireland was out of the room.

When Ireland returned, Congdon refused to answer his questions. Ireland said he was outraged the board did not wait for him to return before continuing and that Congdon was not forced to answer his questions.

“In 10 years on this board, this is the first time we’ve let an applicant control the process so far as to refuse to answer questions. I think it goes against the due process of this board and the people I represent,” Ireland said.

Commissioner Patti Clapper countered that Ireland was asking questions already addressed by Congdon and therefore he need not respond to Ireland.

Ireland then left the meeting, saying he was deeply troubled by the lack of support shown by his colleagues.

Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is

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