The Glenwood Springs Citizens’ Alliance (GSCA) and Garfield County notched an incremental victory on Nov. 8 when U.S. District Judge Charlotte N. Sweeney issued a favorable ruling in our lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
GSCA and Garfield County’s suit, filed in 2020, contends that BLM failed to follow its own regulations for mining on federal lands, allowing quarry operator Rocky Mountain Industrials (RMI) to mine and sell limestone for “common variety” purposes not allowed under its BLM permit.
Judge Sweeney ruled that because BLM “has unreasonably delayed” in completing a mineral examination of the limestone deposit, the suit should continue. BLM had filed a motion to dismiss.
“We are pleased Judge Sweeney recognized that BLM has stalled for far too long in taking action against RMI’s mining of common variety limestone,” said Jeff Peterson, president of the GSCA.
‘Enough is enough’
BLM has been conducting the mineral examination since 2019. That report is still in process three years later, with no sign of being completed.
Judge Sweeney noted, “There is a point when the court must let the agency know, in no uncertain terms, that enough is enough.”
The study, called a Determination of Common Variety (DCV), was launched in response to RMI’s proposal to expand the quarry from its permitted 15 acres to 321 acres. The DCV is expected to evaluate the limestone for chemical purity as well as for the types of uses for which RMI would be mining and selling it.
“The court agrees with GSCA and Garfield County that BLM’s failure to complete the DCV has carried severe consequences for the people and land of Glenwood Springs,” Judge Sweeney wrote in her Nov. 8 order.
Haul trucks moving through Glenwood Springs, dust plumes, and noise from blasting and crushing have disrupted life and impacted the environment. Meanwhile, RMI continues to mine and sell limestone for purposes not allowed under its federal mining permit.
The quarry’s permit is only for mining chemical-grade limestone, primarily used to suppress methane in underground coal mines. But much of RMI’s rock sales are for rip-rap, boulders and road fill. Those types of end uses are not allowed under the mining permit, and require a federal sales contract and royalty payments.
GSCA and Garfield County have been pressing BLM to stop allowing RMI to mine limestone for those non-permitted purposes. BLM, meanwhile, has stalled its regulatory action while repeatedly promising to issue the DCV.
Escrow account not a “final agency action”
In her ruling, Judge Sweeney did grant BLM’s motion to dismiss a related issue in the suit.
The GSCA and Garfield County had targeted a 2019 agreement between BLM and RMI that established an escrow account to collect monthly payments based on limestone sales.
GSCA and Garfield County argued the escrow represented a binding requirement for RMI to continue to operate the quarry, and would thus be a “final agency action” that could be challenged in court.
“While Judge Sweeney did not rule that the escrow agreement was a final agency action, she did rule that the other key element in our case — BLM’s unreasonable delay in regulating the quarry — is a valid complaint,” Peterson said.
“Our lawsuit, showing that BLM is violating federal mining and public land laws, is alive and well,” he added.
Judge green-lights lawsuit against federal lands agency for delayed action against illegal mining
Colorado Politics / The Colorado Springs Gazette
Nov. 11, 2022
A federal judge agreed on Tuesday the government has unreasonably delayed a years-long investigation into whether illegal mining is taking place near Glenwood Springs.