Pitkin County pans Avalanche mining
October 12, 2011
ASPEN – Pitkin County would prefer that no mining operation be permitted to continue in the Avalanche Creek Valley, south of Carbondale.
That was the gist of the sentiments voiced Tuesday by county commissioners, who gave their input on a letter the county will send to the U.S. Forest Service. The federal agency is seeking comments, due Wednesday, on an Environmental Assessment for the Mystic Eagle Mine operating plan. The mine, owned by Elbram Stone Co. LLC, was formerly known as the White Banks Mine.
The Forest Service assessment analyzes three options for the alabaster mine, where the owners have indicated the extraction of marble and gypsum is also a possibility. A “no action” alternative doesn’t allow mining to take place, though Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Scott Snelson already has indicated the agency cannot prevent access to someone’s mineral holdings. Analysis of the no-action option is nonetheless required.
“It is questionable that any approval at all is necessary given the apparent lack of commitment to mining on the part of the current and past owners,” reads the county’s draft letter. “There has been no meaningful activity at the mine in at least the past eight years.”
“I would be in favor of the no-mining alternative, quite frankly,” said Commissioner Michael Owsley.
“I think the preference is no mining,” Commissioner Jack Hatfield agreed. Other commissioners concurred.
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If mining is to be permitted, commissioners favor an operating plan developed by the Forest Service that prohibits wintertime surface operations, but the county is urging the agency to prohibit underground operations during the winter, as well.
The mine is in a winter concentration area for bighorn sheep, and state wildlife officials have deemed the herd in decline. In the past, no mining has been permitted in the winter.
The operating plan proposed by the mine’s owners calls for rerouting Avalanche Creek Road to move it away from the mine portal, worker camping except during the winter months, new buildings, and year-round activity, with daytime surface operations five days a week during the winter. The Forest Service alternative allows rerouting the road, but no camping or additional buildings. No surface operations would be allowed between Nov. 15 and April 30 under the Forest Service alternative.
The Forest Service permit for the mine has expired, prompting Elbram’s new application and the proposal for year-round mining. A county permit to operate the mine remains in effect, though it doesn’t allow wintertime activities.
The mine is about 11.5 miles south of Carbondale and roughly 6 miles north of Redstone, along the road that leads to the Avalanche Creek campground. The road is closed to vehicles from Nov. 15 through April 30 annually to protect bighorn sheep. In addition, dogs aren’t permitted during those months and people are restricted to the road. The mine portal is a short distance beyond the road closure gate.
Snelson is expected to make a decision on the mine application before year’s end.