Mine owner, neighbors at odds over winter operations
Some neighbors of Pitkin County’s most successful working mine aren’t having quite the blast that the owner is over extraction of marble and alabaster.
Residents of Swiss Village and Crystal River Estates, located within one mile of the mine, have been jolted for the last month by explosions coming from the mine as dynamite is used to create a development tunnel.
Swiss Village resident Bill Brunworth said the explosions and the air concussions they create rattle his house, which is more than a half mile away, across Highway 133 from the confluence of Avalanche Creek and the Crystal River.
Brunworth said he fears the blasts could damage the foundation of his house or shake loose some boulders on the mountainside above the subdivision.
“I’ve never complained about the mine before even though I wanted to,” Brunworth said. “I’ve been trying to live and let live.”
But he claimed that conditions have changed drastically enough lately that he complained to the U.S. Forest Service. The agency granted a permit in 1995 to allow the mining.
Brunworth noted that power lines were extended to the property this summer, creating both good and bad consequences. The electrical juice eliminated the mine’s need to run off of a noisy, diesel-fueled generator. But with it came a security light that gives off an obnoxious glow, he said.
He filed a complaint with the Forest Service about the light as well as the blasting. In addition, Brunworth said heavy equipment has operated outside the mine as early as 5 a.m. recently.
Mine operator Robert Congdon has a permit to undertake mine operations from sunrise to a half hour after sunset for nearly six months of the year. He must close down Nov. 15 and he cannot open until May.
The restrictions were put in place for the same reason that dogs and vehicles are restricted from the Avalanche Creek area during winters – for the protection of a bighorn sheep herd that takes up residence there, according to Forest Service officials.
Congdon applied in August to increase his operations to year-round work. Brunworth said he learned of that application recently but is concerned that the Forest Service isn’t letting people know about the plan. He said year-round operations would be too much and might signal the end to an already uneasy truce some neighbors have with the mine.
“All of a sudden it’s not a compromise anymore,” said Brunworth.
Congdon said he shouldn’t be asked to compromise by restricting operations to six months.
“It’s critical to keep going,” he said. “We can’t produce enough in six months of the year.”
He said the Forest Service implemented the restriction because the generator made too much noise and would potentially disrupt the sheep. He’s addressed that by spending $35,000 to extend the electrical system infrastructure to the property.
“I can’t lay people off for the winter just because there’s bighorn in the area,” he said. Congdon employs three workers at the mine and plans to hire another three to help pull out marble. Yenter Companies Inc., which was hired for blasting work, employs an additional three.
Congdon said critics are quick to criticize his work but fail to give credit where due. “I did have the right to strip-mine this. It was cheaper but a lot less environmentally friendly,” he said.
Now that the miners have struck the marble vein (see related story on page A1) the neighbors won’t notice the blasting as much, according to Congdon. The blasting was done to turn rock into gravel during development of a tunnel to get the marble, he noted. Now blasting will be done more carefully to remove brown marble. When the crew reaches a black marble vein, it will cut rather than blast it out, he said.
Congdon said he isn’t trying to be insensitive to his neighbors, but he’s trying to make the mining operation profitable.
“I am very concerned about property values, but right now it’s mine that I’m concerned about,” he said.
Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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