2019 Summary: What a year!
New Year’s Greetings to our Friends and Supporters
Thank you for helping us achieve so much success in the past year, and for standing with us in our cause. The Citizens’ Alliance has become stronger and more influential, and our message has spread across Colorado and gained many new allies.
As we start the new year, let’s take a moment to look back at what we achieved in 2019.
Six Key Efforts
Our work in 2019 spanned multiple fronts, and it can sometimes be difficult to grasp everything that’s going on. GSCA focused on six key efforts:
- Observing current operations at the quarry and seeking permit compliance.
- Tracking RMR’s proposal to massively expand its existing quarry operations on public lands.
- Analyzing and commenting on the expansion proposal that was submitted to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
- Building alliances with key partners.
- Educating the local community and the entire state about the impacts of quarry expansion.
- Empowering individuals, businesses and organizations to raise fact-based objections and demonstrate unified opposition.
Observing current operations
In the fall of 2018, the Citizens' Alliance asked Garfield County to review operations at the RMR quarry. We suspected non-compliance with the county special use permit.
To verify our complaints, the Garfield County Commissioners directed county staff to review quarry operations and report back in 90 days. On March 25, the commissioners heard the staff report, along with our comments, and agreed to hold a formal public review meeting on April 22.
In the April 22 meeting, attended by more than 200 people, the commissioners found five aspects of RMR’s current quarry operations to be out of compliance. The commissioners set a June 1, 2019, deadline for RMR to bring its operation back into compliance.
Rather than comply, RMR filed lawsuits against the county in May 2019 in both federal and state courts. The suits allege that Garfield County does not have environmental regulatory authority over mining operations on federal lands. In November, the federal case was put on hold while the lawsuit proceeded in Garfield District Court.
The GSCA stands in support of Garfield County in its defense against these lawsuits.
Tracking RMR’s expansion proposal
BLM accepted RMR’s third formal proposal for expansion of the limestone quarry on Aug. 12, 2019, after rejecting two previous submissions made in November 2018 and March 2019. RMR’s plan proposes:
- Expansion of the current quarry, permitted for 15.7 acres (but actually operating on 20+ acres), to a highly visible mine of 321 acres, within a total permit area of 447 acres.
- Blasting and crushing 5 million tons of rock per year over 20-plus years.
- Operations seven days a week, year-round.
- Hauling truckloads of rock on Transfer Trail, Traver Trail, Highway 6 and Devereux Road to a rail loading facility, up to 450 round trips per day.
The RMR proposal does not describe details about rail shipments of crushed rock from the quarry. Our calculations show that if the quarry were to produce 5 million tons of rock per year, the mining operation will fill a full-length freight train of 137 100-ton cars every day, up to 50,000 freight cars per year. RMR also owns a rail load-out facility near DIA, positioned to serve the Front Range construction market.
When BLM deemed the proposal complete, the agency also announced it would conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) review of the expansion proposal. GSCA and its partners had strongly urged BLM to conduct an EIS, and we were pleased to see BLM make this announcement.
Prior to launching the EIS, BLM is conducting a series of baseline studies intended to inform the EIS review process. The advance studies began in mid-2019, and BLM intends to launch the EIS review by mid-2020. Under a Trump administration executive order, EIS reviews must be completed within one year, so a permit decision would be expected in mid-2021.
Analyzing the expansion proposal
A key aspect of our work is to comb through RMR’s proposal document to analyze the operations and impacts described, and to identify other impacts that are missing from the plan.
GSCA hosted a Science Charette on April 4, 2019 to gather the concerns of 21 local experts from a range of science and engineering fields. We continue to work with these experts to research the impacts of the mining proposal.
In October, BLM opened a scoping period to gather concerns about a drilling plan to study the area’s hydrology and groundwater. This is one of the baseline studies. At issue were five test water monitoring wells to be drilled on the mountainside.
GSCA and its partners raised serious concerns about the potential for these test wells to puncture and disrupt the flow of groundwater feeding the area’s geothermal hot springs.
In December, BLM acknowledged our concerns, and with political pressure, agreed to conduct an Environmental Assessment on the impacts of the wells prior to approving a drilling permit.
GSCA is an all-volunteer organization of Glenwood Springs residents. We have developed a strong and productive alliance with four key partners: the City of Glenwood Springs, Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, and the jointly owned Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and Iron Mountain Hot Springs. Together we stand in opposition to the quarry expansion proposal.
During 2019, the Glenwood Springs City Council strengthened its advocacy in several ways. Council approved two resolutions, one in March urging BLM to conduct an EIS review of the expansion proposal, and one in November opposing the expansion. In May, four city officials traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with the Colorado congressional delegation and express their concerns about current permit violations and the quarry expansion.
Council members and city staff reached out to neighboring local governments for support. In response, resolutions opposing the expansion plan and supporting Garfield County in its defense against the RMR lawsuits were passed by City of Rifle, Town of Silt, Town of New Castle, Town of Carbondale, Town of Basalt, Town of Snowmass Village, City of Aspen, Pitkin County and Eagle County.
Meanwhile, the Glenwood Springs Chamber conducted a survey of its membership and found more than 90 percent of respondents oppose the quarry expansion. In November, the Chamber board unanimously voted to oppose the quarry expansion.
On Nov. 16, City Council hosted a community event, The Whole Shebang, to educate residents about the proposal, drawing 400 people and generating statewide media coverage, including regional television coverage, an Associated Press article picked up across the country, and a Denver Post editorial opposing the quarry expansion.
On Dec. 5, City Council awarded GSCA a $20,000 grant and offered a challenge grant that will be awarded to match up to $30,000 in community donations. We announced the Love Glenwood Challenge grant the following week. By year’s end, 63 individuals and 11 businesses contributed more than $24,000 in donations, demonstrating the deep concern shared by those who know and love Glenwood Springs.
Educating the community
GSCA expanded the outreach efforts, which began in 2018, with a series of booths, parades and presentations in 2019. Our work engaged scores of volunteers and delivered information to hundreds of people about the threat our community faces.
We hosted informational booths at Strawberry Days and Glenwood’s Downtown Market, marched in parades in Glenwood Springs, Rifle and New Castle, and presented to various boards and service clubs.
Our “Don’t Mine Glenwood” flyers are being distributed by retail businesses across Glenwood Springs, yard signs are up in neighborhoods all over the city, and people scooped up our “Don’t Mine” and “Love Glenwood” ball caps and t-shirts.
Throughout the year, local newspapers and radio stations intensively covered the issue, and the story spread statewide in November, 2019. By year’s end, we counted 56 print and broadcast articles, letters to the editor, columns and editorials. In its year-end review, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent named the mine expansion story as the top news story of 2019.
Empowering individuals, businesses and organizations
GSCA worked through 2019 to gather documented endorsements from individuals, businesses and organizations. We started 2019 with 1,096 individual endorsements and 57 business endorsements.
By year’s end, we tallied nearly 2,100 individual endorsements and 273 business and organizational endorsements, and more than 600 people have offered to volunteer. This growing number of endorsements and activism proves the unified community opposition.
Two highly successful letter-writing campaigns raised awareness within BLM and the U.S. Department of Interior about the serious threats the quarry expansion proposal poses for Glenwood Springs.
In June, 2019, GSCA asked the community to send letters to BLM officials expressing what is at stake. That campaign, we believe, helped convince BLM officials to pledge a full EIS review of the proposal.
In October, 2019, BLM’s open request for scoping comments about the test well drilling proposal generated 250 comments, along with a public letter from 3rd District Congressman Scott Tipton, all urging further study before drilling is approved. While BLM was prepared to quickly approve the drilling permit, this flood of public comment and political pressure convinced BLM to take the cautious approach requested by the public.
Whew! What a year!
If you made it to the end of this article, congratulations! We hope you’ll agree that the Glenwood Springs Citizens’ Alliance made 2019 a banner year for activism in the face of a scary threat to the future of our community.
We have big plans for 2020. You’ll see a series of community events aimed at building awareness of the quarry issue. We want to prepare people so they are ready to speak out when the opportunity arises, through local action events and through the formal BLM review process.
We need YOUR participation in our cause, and value the contributions you can make: sending a letter or email to BLM or an elected official, attending a public hearing, showing up for a GSCA action event, donating money, and talking with your friends and neighbors about the issue.
We are unified in our opposition, and we are strong together.