BLM approves RMR drilling project without public review

Residents and business owners in Glenwood Springs were surprised to learn this week that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently approved substantial new drilling operations at Rocky Mountain Resources’ (RMR’s) quarry just outside the City of Glenwood Springs.

The Glenwood Springs Citizens’ Alliance discovered that on October 12, BLM Acting Field Manager Gloria Tibbetts issued a Record of Decision approving RMR’s request to drill “up to 15 drill holes, each no more than 200 feet deep” at the current quarry site.

According to BLM, “The purpose of the [RMR] request is to gain a better understanding of the dolomite deposit located beneath the limestone deposit that the operator is currently mining.” The decision documents states that the approval “shall take effect immediately.”

BLM posted its approval on its website.

Despite having RMR’s drilling proposal under review for some time, BLM never notified the City of Glenwood Springs, Garfield County, and did not provide any opportunity for public review of RMR’s proposal or BLM’s pending approval. Instead, BLM approved the drilling project with a “Categorical Exclusion,” (CE) which avoided all public review, an action allowed is some circumstances under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

“Although NEPA regulations allow certain types of projects to fall under a categorical exclusion, the law strictly limits BLM’s authority to bypass public review, as it did here,” stated Roger Flynn, an attorney for the Western Mining Action Project.

“For example, BLM stated that the drilling project was eligible to fit within the ‘category’ of ‘Digging of exploratory trenches for mineral materials.’ Yet, the project is not for ‘digging trenches,’ it is for drilling 15 holes, each up to 200 feet deep. BLM’s contorted logic to avoid public scrutiny defies common sense,” Flynn added.

GSCA member Sumner Schachter said, “Due to the ongoing concerns about operations at the quarry expressed by residents and local businesses, BLM should be allowing public review of all permit modifications at the site – not shielding RMR’s activities from the public’s eyes. BLM seems to have forgotten that this is the public’s land and that citizens should be informed of what occurs so close to their homes and businesses.”

GSCA sent a detailed letter to BLM on October 11, requesting BLM to immediately investigate numerous concerns over past and current operations at the site. Instead of responding to that letter, BLM approved the drilling project the next day, all without any public review.

There is also a question as to whether the drilling project for other minerals complies with RMR’s special use permit through Garfield County, most recently approved in 2010, as that approval was limited to the “Extraction and Processing of Natural Resources for operation of a limestone quarry.” Despite this, Garfield County officials were never notified by the BLM of the drilling project.

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