Miner hopes foam will quell neighbors worries | AspenTimes.com

Miner hopes foam will quell neighbors worries

Eben HarrellAspen Times Staff Writer

A miner in the Crystal River Valley has begun testing a device that he hopes will ease the concerns of neighbors.Robert Congdon runs the White Banks Alabaster Mine along Avalanche Creek between Carbondale and Redstone. Last November the U.S. Forest Service permitted winter operations at the mine for a one-year trial period. Congdon said he is close to striking a rich load of black marble. The mine has come under public scrutiny recently because residents of two nearby communities have complained about the facility. These residents, headed most vocally by Swiss Village resident Bill Brunworth, are concerned about the mines environmental impact and also by the loud blasting, which some residents claim has damaged homes.Congdon sought the assistance of Dr. Chapman Young, a mining engineer based in Steamboat Springs. Young, an inventor and designer with degrees from Cornell and Stanford, recently developed a foam drilling machine which he is currently testing in Congdons mine. The machine injects a highly viscous foam into a rock bed with enough pressure to fracture the rock. It is virtually silent and, unlike blasting, is completely nontoxic. It is also potentially cheaper and more efficient than blasting. Young is allowing Congdon the use of a prototype in return for on-site testing. The machine is currently unreliable, but the men hope to smooth out the glitches within the coming weeks.This could go a long way to easing tensions, Congdon said. I can reduce blasting from every other day to once a week. If I can make [my neighbors] happy, Im willing to go the extra mile.Brunworth expressed skepticism about the foam technology. He said that while they would welcome any reduction in blasting, Swiss Village residents still harbor deep concerns about the mines operations.We are going to pursue this blasting issue, Brunworth said. Hell still be blasting once a week. We are not going to sit by and let him get away with huge disturbances to the area.In March, Swiss Village residents will meet with Forest Service representative Bill Westbrook to address their concerns. Brunworth said residents will confront Westbrook with a recommendation from the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a complete environmental analysis of the mines impact before allowing operations to continue. The Forest Service currently refuses to perform a full environmental analysis, citing budgetary restrictions.Eben Harrells e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com