Quarry in Marble facing scrutiny from federal, state regulators in wake of diesel spill

Heather Sackett
Aspen Journalism

MARBLE — Colorado Stone Quarries, the operator of Marble’s famed Yule quarry, is facing scrutiny and possible penalties from federal and state regulators after an October diesel spill that shut down operations for nearly two months.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking into whether a special permit is needed for the diversion of Yule Creek, which was done to make way for a temporary mining road. In addition, the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety says it believes the quarry violated state statutes by releasing pollutants into groundwater.

Representatives from state DRMS and the Army Corps visited the site, which is located 3 miles up County Road 3C from the town of Marble, on Feb. 11, four months after 5,500 gallons of diesel fuel leaked from a tank on the property.

Nearby Yule Creek, which flows into the Crystal River, was spared from the Oct. 11 spill because the waterway had been diverted from its natural channel to the east of Franklin Ridge so operators could construct a temporary access road to the quarry.

Because the access road and creek diversion was supposed to be temporary, officials at Colorado Stone Quarries, or CSQ, claimed the project did not need a permit from the Army Corps. Under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, a project requires a permit from the Army Corps if it includes the discharge of dredged or fill materials into waters, such as rivers, streams and wetlands.

To qualify for a 404 exemption for the construction of temporary roads for moving mine equipment, CSQ is required to meet 15 best-management practices. CSQ says its activities comply with those practices.

The temporary diversion was approved by DRMS in September 2018 in what’s known as a technical revision to the quarry’s permit.

But because of ongoing cleanup and water-quality monitoring as a result of the spill, the temporary road and creek diversion will be in place longer than intended — until at least the fall of 2022, according to a report from the company. Until then, the old Yule Creek channel also will remain full of fill material, including marble blocks. That means the project might need a permit from the Army Corps after all.

“Given that the subject haul road will be in place for the foreseeable future (i.e., not temporary), the exemption under which the road was constructed may not be applicable,” reads a letter from the Army Corps requesting more information from CSQ.

Army Corps officials were alerted to the quarry’s plans for a temporary road and creek diversion when the quarry applied for the technical revision in 2018, but the agency did not raise concerns about the quarry needing a 404 permit at that time.

CSQ and its consultant Greg Lewicki and Associates are offering the Army Corps three potential options for remedying the situation: Take no action, meaning the quarry would follow the plan for a temporary road and creek diversion laid out in its technical revision and the quarry would not get a permit from the Army Corps; leave the creek in its current alignment to the east side of Franklin Ridge, which would require an Army Corps permit; or return Yule Creek to its alignment on the west side of the ridge but at a higher elevation than the pre-diversion alignment.

The Army Corps has asked CSQ to provide more information on these three scenarios. The affected stream reach is about 1,500 feet long.

CSQ also may face fines and other punishment from DRMS, which regulates mining in Colorado. According to a Feb. 7 letter from DRMS director Virginia Brannon, the agency believes the quarry is in violation of three state statutes: unauthorized release of pollutants into groundwater, failure to minimize disturbance to the prevailing hydrologic balance with regard to water quality, and failure to comply with the conditions of the permit.

The diesel spill occurred during the relocation process for the generator and associated fuel tanks. The new location was not approved by DRMS.

“Therefore, the Division has reason to believe that a violation exists to the Colorado Land Reclamation Act for the Extraction of Construction Materials … and (has) scheduled this matter to appear before the Mined Land Reclamation Board,” the letter reads.

CSQ is scheduled to appear before the board March 25 in Denver. The board could issue a cease-and-desist order or impose a fine between $100 and $1,000 for each day of violation.

The spill at the quarry, which is now known as The Pride of America Mine, was marked by delays in reporting and cleanup.

Red Graniti, a company in Cararra, Italy, owns the quarry, which employs about 30 to 40 people and out of whose pure-white stone has been carved the Lincoln Memorial, the Colorado Capitol building and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

In 2016, the quarry was granted a permit for a 114-acre expansion, for a total of 124 permitted acres. According to CSQ, there are enough marble reserves contained in its six galleries to continue mining at the current rate for more than 100 years.

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