Winter operations denied at Crystal Valley mine, for now |

Winter operations denied at Crystal Valley mine, for now

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – An alabaster and marble mine in the Crystal Valley won’t be allowed to operate year-round because of the potential effects on bighorn sheep, the U.S. Forest Service announced Tuesday.

Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Scott Snelson signed a decision notice that allows the White Banks Mine to operate between May 1 and Nov. 30. On-site camping for miners won’t be allowed and no additional buildings can be constructed, Snelson decided.

The White Banks Mine, formerly known as the Mystic Eagle Mine, is about 11.5 miles south of Carbondale and 6.5 miles north of Redstone. It’s up Avalanche Creek, a short distance from Highway 133.

The mine ownership group in Elbram Stone Co. applied for a 20-year permit. It said expanding to a year-round operation is critical to make the operation economical. It wants to pull out multicolored alabaster, black marble and gypsum for the mine.

White Banks is the last working mine in Pitkin County.

Many residents of neighborhoods in the area opposed the plan because of the perceived effects on the environment and their lifestyle. In a meeting last winter on the site, numerous residents voiced concern about the mine turning a stunning outdoor area into an industrial site.

The plan to expand to year-round operations also was opposed by Wilderness Workshop, a Carbondale-based conservation group.

“The biggest issue was about the bighorn sheep and the dwindling population up there,” said Peter Hart, attorney for Wilderness Workshop. He noted that the time of restrictions on mining are consistent with restrictions on hiking and cross-country skiing up Avalanche Creek.

The Forest Service agreed that the welfare of bighorn sheep in the area is paramount.

“My decision to select this alternative was developed in response to the key issue raised about potential impacts to bighorn sheep during critical winter periods,” Snelson wrote in his decision.

All mining equipment must be removed from the site before Nov. 30, the decision says. Foot traffic will be allowed at the mine portal entrance during the winter, except from Jan. 16 to March 15. The Forest Service also will allow snowplowing and truck travel two weekends each in December and April to allow the owners to remove product from the mine.

The decision also requires the mine owners to work with the Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife on a five-year baseline monitoring program to establish the bighorn sheep population in the area. The decision is written in a way that leaves open the possibility of allowing limited winter mining if it can be established that the population is stable.

Wilderness Workshop’s Hart said Tuesday he was still digging into the details of the decision.

Walt Brown, an attorney for the mine owners, said he also was still digesting the decision. At first glance, he said, it doesn’t allow for winter operations.

There is a 45-day appeal period open to individuals and organizations that submitted comments during the Forest Service’s environmental assessment of the mine.

The Forest Service will hold a community forum at the Church at Redstone from 5 to 6 p.m. March 22 to discuss the decision. The church is at 213 Redstone Blvd. in Redstone.

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