Rocky Mountain Industrials v. Garfield County
Efforts by Garfield County to enforce special use permit regulations for current quarry operations resulted in RMI filing suit against Garfield County. After nearly four years of legal wrangling, Garfield County prevailed in defending its authority to enforce permit conditions.
In the fall of 2018, the Citizens’ Alliance, City of Glenwood Springs and Glenwood Caverns asked Garfield County to review operations at the RMI quarry. Non-compliance with the county special use permit was suspected.
The county permit has been in place since 1982, when the quarry was first developed by Mid-Continent Resources. The permit was amended in 2009 to include additional restrictions to mining operations.
To understand the situation, the Garfield Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) directed county staff to review quarry operations and report back in 90 days.
On March 25, 2019, the commissioners heard the results of the staff review along with comments from the Citizens’ Alliance. The commissioners agreed to hold a more formal public review meeting on April 22, 2019.
In the April 22 meeting, the Garfield Board of County Commissioners found five aspects of RMI’s current quarry operations to be out of compliance with its county special use permit. On May 8, 2019, Garfield County issued a formal Notice of Violation citing these areas of non-compliance:
- Size of the quarry exceeds the permitted 16.3 acres.
- RMI is mining and selling types of rock material not included in county permit approvals.
- RMI conducted mining operations during the winter months despite a 2009 restriction.
- RMI has not adhered to required Maintenance Plan, specifically relating to noise from rock-crushing and back-up beepers on equipment.
- RMI drilled a series of exploratory holes in the Leadville Limestone without county authorization.
The commissioners set a June 1, 2019, deadline for RMI to bring its quarrying operations back into compliance.
Rather than comply, RMI filed lawsuits against the county in May 2019 in both federal and state courts. The suits alleged that Garfield County does not have jurisdictional authority over mining operations on federal lands.
Garfield County engaged outside legal counsel to assist in its defense. The City of Glenwood Springs entered the case as a co-defendant aligned with Garfield County.
The Citizens’ Alliance stands in support of Garfield County, and is following the legal proceedings.
What has happened so far:
May 17, 2019: RMI files suit against Garfield County in Garfield District Court (state court)
May 21, 2019: RMI files suit against Garfield County in U.S. District Court (federal court)
July 22, 2019: Garfield County files a Motion to to Dismiss or Stay for the case in federal court, arguing that state court is the more appropriate venue for the case.
September 29, 2019: U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Gordon Gallagher in Grand Junction issues a recommendation calling for a stay of the case in federal court while the matter is heard in state court. The recommendation is subject to approval in U.S. District Court in Denver.
November 29, 2019: U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson orders a stay of the case in federal court, allowing the matter to be heard in state court.
January 6, 2020: The City of Glenwood Springs files a motion to intervene in the case in Garfield District Court, citing a need to protect tax revenue, city-owned property, and significant investments in downtown, open space, and recreational assets.
January 9, 2020: RMI files a motion in Garfield District Court asking to limit evidence in the case only to those documents directly related to the April 22, 2019, public hearing and the county’s 2019 Notice of Violation.
March 31, 2020: Garfield County Community Development Department issues a second Notice of Violation to RMI for continuing to mine, crush and stockpile limestone for the second winter in a row.
April 15, 2020: RMI files an amended complaint, asking the court to permanently bar Garfield County from enforcing its two Notices of Violation.
May 8, 2020: Garfield District Judge Anne K. Norrdin grants the motion to intervene filed by the City of Glenwood Springs, noting that the city and county governments “ultimately have separate interests to protect.”
May 8, 2020: Judge Norrdin denies the motion from RMI to limit evidence in the case, allowing relevant evidence from earlier Garfield County Commissioner meetings to also be presented.
January 31, 2021: Judge Norrdin rules in Garfield County’s favor on three of five key points. The ruling affirmed the county’s right to issue notices of violation regarding size of the quarry, winter operations and road maintenance agreements. Read coverage of the ruling in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.
March 8, 2021: Garfield County files motion requesting summary judgment.
June 26, 2021: Judge Norrdin issues order granting Garfield County’s motion for summary judgment, bringing the case to an end. Read our blog post here.
August 12, 2021: RMI files notice of appeal to the Colorado Court of Appeals, asking the higher court to overturn Judge Norrdin’s rulings and to determine, contrary to the District Court’s ruling, that Garfield County does not have authority to regulate mining activities on federal land. Read coverage of the appeal in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.
December 15, 2021: RMI files an opening brief in its appeal to the Colorado Court of Appeals, asking the higher court to overturn Judge Norrdin’s rulings.
November 10, 2022: The Colorado Court of Appeals sets a hearing for oral arguments for Jan. 24, 2023, in Denver.
Jan. 24, 2023: A three-judge panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals hears oral arguments in the case. Debate centers on Garfield County’s authority to enforce winter restrictions on mining operations to protect wildlife habitat.
Feb. 16, 2023: The Colorado Court of Appeals issues a 33-page ruling affirming Garfield County’s authority to impose a seasonal restriction on mining operations, upholding the Judge Anne Norrdin’s 2021 rulings. Read our blog post here.