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Mining dispute finally finished

One of the last hard-rock miners in the Roaring Fork Valley settled a 10-year legal dispute recently with the Pitkin County Commissioners.

Robert Congdon said yesterday that he’s received a $350,000 financial settlement from the county.

“I really don’t have much to say,” said Congdon. “I’m just glad it’s over.”

He noted that a substantial portion of his settlement will pay off legal fees and expenses. He was represented by Aspen attorney Charles Fagan.

The roots of Congdon’s dispute with Pitkin County go back to the early 1990s when he discovered an alabaster deposit one-half mile up Avalanche Creek. He wanted to mine the gray, white, black and swirled material for use in interior custom home work and for sculpture.

Although he received the permits he needed from the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board, his plan was rejected by Pitkin County. The county contended Congdon didn’t do enough to offset potential water and air quality problems created by his mine.

Congdon and his crew went to work in spring 1992 without a county permit. The county responded with a stop-work order, which Congdon ignored. The county turned to the courts for a temporary restraining order, which was granted.

Meanwhile, the county commissioners voted 4-0 in September 1992 to turn down a permit for Congdon’s alabaster mine. But a district judge ruled that the county couldn’t deny a permit if the miner followed mitigation requirements.

When Congdon met clean air and water standards in spring 1993, the commissioners reversed their denial.

By that time Congdon had filed a counterclaim alleging that the permit came too late for him to train workers and raise capital for that summer. He sought unspecified damages for lost income due to the county’s delays in issuing a permit.

The county attorney’s office referred questions about the settlement to assistant county attorney Debbie Quinn. She couldn’t be reached to confirm the $350,000 settlement by press time Wednesday.

Congdon’s mine has been operating with a permit and annual reviews since 1994. He said his settlement with Pitkin County specifies that any future disputes will be handled by a mediator rather than through the time-consuming and expensive court system.

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