Guest commentary: Freedom Eagle history and finishing an American Dream
Imagine, You’re 19 years old and drive a 1958 school bus from western New York to Carbondale. Your new wife is by your side as you drive into town with $50 in your wallet. You pumped gas for $3.50 an hour until you get hired at the local coal mines for $8.50 an hour in 1978. In 1984, the mine shuts down. With two children and a mortgage, you buy a chainsaw and cut firewood. You started prospecting in your limited free time. The old west is still alive.
Imagine: You have a dream to start your own business. You find a little-known law that allows you to own a mineral deposit you discovered. You write a hand-written “Letter of Intent” and submit to the “United States Forest Service” (USFS) who approves it in one day. The law was to give the working class a chance at the American Dream.
Imagine: In 1986, you sell your first piece of Alabaster to a local artist. In 1992 you file a “Plan of Operations” (POO). The USFS reviews the plan honoring their mission statement “to encourage and facilitate mining.” You receive a state reclamation permit and post a bond. You apply for a Pitkin County permit who then sues you. Nine years in court and hundreds of thousand dollars you win and you lose. You won a piece of paper and lose your family and sanity. Your dream becomes a nightmare.
Imagine: You get an investor and build a factory and obtain equipment to quarry. Your POO limited operations to May through November because of wildlife. Line power was brought in to comply with USFS requirements to allow year-round operations. The USFS agreement went in the “trash can.” You go bankrupt. The new west arrived.
Imagine: You try to salvage your dream by creating an artist colony with artist carving art, fireplaces and water features, etc. You created a model that blends into the ever-growing local art community. You have a signed letter from the USFS approving the plan. Jeremy Dean Russell is carving a 55-foot Eagle underground called “Freedom Eagle.” The plan gets national attention. The USFS person who approved the operation retires and the approval goes into the “trash can” at the USFS Sopris office.
Imagine: You shut down operations so you can put all your limited funds into fighting the USFS. Your POO is expiring so you file for renewal. USFS orders you to put up $250,000, for two years, to study Big Horn sheep, an animal that is not endangered, threatened or sensitive. You go through three appeals with lawyer Walt Brown and win. It still takes six years to renew an existing POO. The USFS rules say 90 days to review. You are seriously injured in the mine and get sued by your business partner who didn’t file paperwork required by the BLM, doesn’t tell you, and then claim jumps the property.
Imagine: You fight the claim jump in Pitkin County court and lose. All your hard work and the fallacy of an American dream is dead. Two years later, the claim-jumping partner loses their senior rights by not filing the same required paper work and your claim becomes senior. Karma?
Imagine: The USFS says your permit, with an expiration date of 2035, has been revoked and you must vacate the site or file for a new plan. No notification is sent to you. The mining management team in the Washington, D.C., office can’t give you a regulation that allows revocation. You get a call from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department on Aug. 22 who informs you that you are being investigated for trespassing on your own valid mining claim.
You probably wonder why I keep going. The best I can come up with is “We get the government we deserve,” as Benjamin Franklin once said. We deserve better! The USFS is supposed to work for us, instead they work against us. If they can take my rights away, they can take yours. The only way to stop corrupt, abusive government is to stand up and fight legally. There is an old proverb that says “Honor your enemies as they make you stronger.” I don’t want to be any stronger. I just want to finish my American dream.
Robert Congdon operates an alabaster and marble mine in Avalanche Creek in the Crystal Valley.
Town Park wetlands? If you build it they will come! They will come with dogs off leash to jump in the pond. They will come with children to picnic on a man-made beach.
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